Comment: A shrewd intervention

David Cameron knew that a lot was riding on his economy speech, but his ever-unflustered and cool presence prevailed as he stepped up to the Bloomberg podium to declare his “Plan for a Responsible Economy”.

With shadow chancellor, George Osborne, sitting casually on the cushioned seat to his right, and bolstered by the terms ‘responsible’ and ‘Conservative’ boldly hanging in the background, Mr Cameron commenced his speech. He covered where he and his party now stand with respect to the current government’s decisions in the financial crisis: the Conservatives are “united and strong” over the decision to re-capitalise the banks, apparently. He covered what went wrong, detailing what he considered to be the Labour government’s mistakes and the “complete and utter failure of their economic record”. Finally, concluding with a list of strategies based on lessons learnt from past errors, Mr ‘suddenly-not-so-novice’ Cameron covered what he plans to do next.

The introduction, for once, didn’t focus on broken politics, broken economies, or the ‘broken society’. Instead, he looked up and around his audience, proclaiming that politics is about “you” and “us” – it is about “the words you speak, the understanding you have of the problems we face, the vision you have. But all of those rest on the shoulders of one thing – the decision and judgement calls you make”. There it was. However much one likes or dislikes the opposition party leader, it is hard to argue that his smooth locution is not on top form. The non-partisan chord of the first two minutes gave him more room to go on the attack later.
The tirade on the “false assumptions” of Gordon Brown over the past decade eventually settled into a confident and unruffled description of his plan to end the “era of irresponsibility,” during which he accused Brown of spending and borrowing money without restraint. Ultimately, this was a political speech.

Responsibility, maturity, discipline: the Tories’ new favourite words. But of course they would be. People are wary of the Conservative’s policies, but the party still retain the advantage of being able to criticise both Brown the prime minister and Brown the former chancellor. Mr Cameron presented a step by step plan, confidently rebuking any attacks to it. The seemingly like-minded nods from the viewers appeared to approve of his friendly tone, as it nimbly tackled foreboding topics like “counter cyclical rules” and the proposal of a new regulation office. Mr Osborne’s face was ever in a state of supportive scrutiny and pursed approval, projecting a somewhat forced sense of confidence into the economic arena.

The ‘money buddies’ combined forces during questions and it should be said that, at least on the surface, they did not shy away from or rearrange these enquiries. Charm, though certainly present, is not the only thing that generates Mr Cameron’s success as an orator. His resounding ability to hit points of his speech with poignant inflections and forceful emphasis give the distinct impression he believes in what he is saying. It is with retrospect that one has the ability to competently evaluate Mr Cameron’s speeches. At the time, it is difficult not to be carried along.

But no matter how many times he repeated the word ‘responsible’ (and he did it quite a lot), the term could not disguise his effort to subtly attach traditional centre-right policies to a volatile economy. And even if his own conservatism truly believes in the need for greater regulation, he still reverted to Gordon-bashing to fill the holes left by a missing account of Conservative’s own financial convictions over the past decade.

Of course, all sides of the political spectrum are going to preach responsibility. “We need change” to repair the broken economy, he said, promising a new era of “social and economic responsibility”. Still, the “good speech” murmurs that infiltrated parts of the conference hall were not necessarily emphatic enough to suggest this speech has made the Tories trustworthy on the economy. But they do denote a competent opening salvo in Conservative attempts to tackle the issue head-on in a way which suits them.

Kristin Weiland