‘Against quite a few paragraphs in Cameron's speech I wrote a single word: "How?" I used to do the same with Blair's early speeches only to discover in 1997 that he had no answers to the question in several key policy areas. Most fundamentally it is still not at all clear how Cameron plans to reduce what he calls Labour's debt crisis.
He framed the argument as a progressive one: "The progressive thing to do, the responsible thing to do is to get a grip on debt but in a way that brings the country together instead of driving it apart". Yes, but how? So far George Osborne has announced cuts amounting to £7bn and yesterday there was quite a focus on the areas where Cameron would increase spending.’
It is a powerful argument, and certainly the pledge to increase NHS spending is a hostage to fortune that contradicts Cameron’s overarching position. But, the most effective party conference speeches are broad brush sales pitches, not myopic think tank lectures. The key is to present a vision; it is a rhetorical exercise.
Gordon Brown’s speech was policy heavy. It was comforting in a way, like listening to the Archers – the plot never moves on, we’ve heard the tractor statistics, all of them, many times before. What was absent was a vision, simply because, try though he might, Brown doesn’t possess one. The world has changed, and Cameron has dreamed a dream and sold it. He wants to liberate Society by deconstructing the state to subservience. That desire inflects every aspect of his political thought. The details of Tory policy remain vague, but a conference is not the arena to express them, especially in an election year. As Richards writes later in the article: ‘The real battle will be joined when the government unveils its pre-Budget report, probably next month.’