Let’s not be too hasty saluting that speech


David CameronDavid Cameron has only one thing going for him: he isn’t Ed Miliband.

Miliband’s speech at the Labour conference proved yet again that he has learned nothing from the disasters his socialist predecessors have perpetrated with predictable regularity.

Clearly, this Eddie is not for learning.

Dave isn’t a particularly fast study either, but he has the mind-focusing prospect of losing the next election staring him in the face.

Trouble is, Ed may have shot himself in the foot, but he may still hopscotch to electoral victory.

One reason for that is the gerrymandering engineered with enviable foresight by the Blair-Brown lot. As a result, the Tories need a 50% greater popular vote than Labour to win a parliamentary seat, and who says Labour doesn’t think ahead.

A more important reason is the one I pointed out the other day: our Conservative PM isn’t conservative. And what’s worse is that by now everyone knows it.

Hence, though his suit-no-tie liberal image goes over big in Notting Hill, it leaves him vulnerable to a flanking manoeuvre by a third party preaching something like a clear-cut conservative message.

Ukip cleverly positioned itself as one such, and it’s about to become a parliamentary party. True enough, the handful of seats Farage is likely to claim wouldn’t by itself necessarily spell defeat for the Tories. But the trouble is it’s not by itself.

A much more significant factor is the fracturing effect Ukip candidates have on the traditional Tory support, and this will be much greater than the erosion of the Labour vote they are also likely to cause.

Tory voters know that, come what may, they’ll have to live with a government that isn’t quite conservative. But they are disgusted to see governing in their name someone who isn’t just insufficiently conservative but aggressively anti-conservative.

This explains why, in spite of glowing economic reports, predictions of even better things to come, and notwithstanding Ed’s cosmic incompetence, the Tories have been consistently trailing Labour in the polls.

Nothing sharpens a modern politician’s mind like the prospect of losing power. Dave’s mind now honed to razor sharpness, he knew what he had to do.

In fact just before the Tory conference The Daily Mail spelled it out in no uncertain terms: Dave had to deliver the speech of his life.

His task was twofold. The easy part was to look good compared to Ed, which was achievable simply by remembering to say ruefully that the country still has a bit of a problem paying her own way.

The difficult part was to come across as something everyone knows Dave isn’t: a conservative. Someone who can flog Nigel Farage by swinging his own bullwhip from the right.

Now pretending to be something one isn’t is called deception in some quarters, and Dave is the past master. This he proved by delivering a rousing oration that went a long way towards convincing the more credulous wing of the electorate.

The speech gave despairing Tories a straw to clutch, even though some aren’t sure it’s strong enough to support their weight.

In their elation few realised that the politicking leopard still kept his spots firmly in place.

Look for example at Dave’s fiery rhetoric against the European Court of Human Rights, culminating in a promise to replace Labour’s Human Rights Act with our own Bill of Rights.

We don’t need lessons on human rights from Strasbourg, said Dave, and he’s absolutely right. Where he’s wrong is that we don’t need another Bill of Rights either, considering we already had one in 1689.

There was plenty wrong with that Lockean document, but this is beyond my scope here. What matters is that Dave’s legal thought seems to be anchored to a system of positive law prevalent on the continent.

Our common, precedent-based law doesn’t need to be codified in a single document: it comes not from a state diktat but from experience lovingly gathered and meticulously tested over generations.

If Dave is unaware of this, it’s most unfortunate. But if he knows what’s what but talks about bills of rights regardless, it’s much worse.

He has accepted the language, and therefore the thought, of those whose legal tradition isn’t only different from ours but is diametrically opposite to it. This bodes badly for numerous EU-related promises of which Dave, with Nigel breathing down his neck, made quite a few.

Deep down he clearly wants to go to bed in London but wake up in Brussels, to echo his speechwriter’s phrase. Therefore Dave will fight Britain’s exit from the EU tooth and nail, and if this means breaking a few promises yet again – well, he has form.

Then came the blockbuster: the promise to reduce taxes, to which The Times bizarrely refers as a ‘giveaway’. (You can give away only something that belongs to you, which means that in the eyes of this formerly conservative paper our money really belongs to the state, which in its munificence can then decide how much we may keep.)

Dave is promising to raise both the ceiling at which the 40% bracket kicks in and also the personal allowance below which no income tax is paid.

In practical terms, most families will get to keep only a few more hundred a year, but still, it’s better than the proverbial poke in the eye.

Yet Dave’s avowed generosity is going to cost the Exchequer billions every year. Juxtaposing this with another promise, that of beginning to reduce the national debt by 2018, we realise that massive reductions in government spending will be needed for Dave not to break another promise or two.

Yes, we all know about the Laffer curve showing that lower taxes stimulate the economy, thereby increasing tax revenue. This idea was so successful that Ronald Reagan became president on its strength.

However, when his OMB man David Stockton began to crunch numbers, he quickly found out that “the Laffer curve didn’t pay for itself”, as he put it. It doesn’t obviate the need for sweeping cuts in public spending.

Where is Dave going to snip? We already know that he’s committed to increasing the NHS budget at roughly the same rate as ever. The £12 billion foreign-aid budget is also ring-fenced, an odd perversion Dave wants to make ironclad law.

Cosmetic cuts in the welfare budget aren’t going to take up the slack, even assuming they are implemented. Any further cuts to our defence capability will mean we’ll have none left – this despite a particularly volatile geopolitical situation. Nor is it up to us to decide how much we donate to the EU.

What remains is social services, which vast number of Britons hold to be sacrosanct. Will Dave and George really reduce the welfare spend by billions? In spite of the other lot screaming about children going hungry as a result? Somehow one doubts that.

There’s no doubt that Dave sounded conservative yesterday. But it’s a long way from sounding to being, and a longer one still to action.

A sceptic will fear the Tories will never travel that road under Dave. An aesthete will nonetheless be happy to have heard some pleasant conservative noises. And a fair-minded man will wish Dave had credited Farage as his co-author, for without him this speech wouldn’t have been made.

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