Comment: Cameron shows his serious side

Yesterday we had the grown-up version of George Osborne. Today it was serious grown-up Dave Cameron. He might have said he wasn’t playing politics on this one but it certainly looked like it.

The references to “today” were unfortunate – anyone remember when Tony Blair said “today was not a day for” blah blah blah but then proceeded to say how he felt that “hand of history” on his shoulder. Call me a cynic but there was something of that about David Cameron’s statement today.

To be fair to him he was always in between a rock and a hard place. Say nothing on the economy and you look like you’ve given in on the whole issue, criticise the government and you look mean spirited and out of touch with the electorate.

All he could do really was offer help and support, show the voters he could empathise with their current concerns and look serious.

And didn’t he look serious? Furrowed brow, check, knitted eyebrows, check, hands forming a steeple occasionally on the bigger points, check. This was pure theatre. David Cameron was, quite rightly, trying to appear statesman-like, bipartisan and capable of reacting to world events in a way that says: “I would make a good prime minister” just in case there were any doubters left out there.

He kept making references to what the Conservatives would do tomorrow but then kept telling us that today is not that day. He kept telling us the Conservatives would come up with their own proposals, be critical of the government where necessary and still hold it to account but “today” was not about all that. No “today” was about working with the government and making sure the economy was “safe, stable and secure”.

It also wouldn’t have done any harm in terms of getting people’s attention focused back on the Conservative party conference, which, let’s face it, has been largely ignored in the same way the Lib Dem conference was a fortnight ago was. World events have cast a rather long shadow over the conference season. Gordon Brown must be supremely grateful they didn’t mess up his speech last week. And that was the other thing. Just in case we might have forgotten in all the financial chaos, David was there to helpfully remind us he would be giving his speech tomorrow and he would be talking about the Conservatives plans to reform the economic system. He was also on hand to reassure people that this was not the death of the capitalist system it just wasn’t working properly presumably. And more importantly than anything else he stood there to remind us using his most serious of serious faces that we were all in this together and that he knew that people were worried about their pensions, savings and jobs.

As an act of stealing the limelight back it probably worked very well. He certainly gets points for looking serious and sensible. Even his attempt to look statesman-like was pretty good. But now he has to back up his commitment to back the government over the legislation his party has largely held up for the last twelve months. And just as importantly he has to come up with some real policy proposals tomorrow that make people believe the Conservatives can be trusted on the economy. As, like it or not, it is the biggest single issue dominating how people will vote and even after today’s performance the Conservatives haven’t won any ground.

Matthew West