This was one of David Cameron’s optimism speeches, a recession-era variant of his ‘let sunshine win the day’. It was pretty short of announcements, which is understandable given the lack of any good news. Instead he focused on essential optimism of the Conservative message: that this is a party which places faith in people, not in governments. And he wanted to spell out what that means, confronting Labour’s criticism of his party (and himself) head-on.
His speech was full of praise for ‘buccaneering’ Britain, a nation whose ability to take on the world was reflected in the Olympic medals table. That there is no problem we can’t solve, if we can persuade the Queen to parachute out of an aircraft to raise a laugh we can do anything. He is quite right, of course, but he didn’t quite say what his government would do to get off the back of the people. And there was no real restatement of the campaigning themes of this government. There is no turning back, Cameron said, no alternative to tough decisions. Quite right, but the criticism of the people in the hall was that his decisions are not tough or radical enough. As we say in the leader of the new Spectator, Cameron’s speech laid out the problems and the overall principles – the fringes were better at spelling out what specific solutions would look like.
His delivery was excellent, as usual: if Ed Miliband had spoken like this, we’d be describing it as a near-miracle. But will this speech be remembered in a year’s time? Or even a month’s time? I doubt it, but I don’t think it was written to be a political landmark. There were sections in it that will be remembered to those who follow politics, especially his moving references to his late son, Ivan.