Broken society, broken banks, broken secrets

Westminster was packed with major speeches and press conferences this morning.
Westminster was packed with major speeches and press conferences this morning.

By Ian Dunt

A spasm of political campaigning this morning saw the main parties make their pitch to voters, a day after Bob Ainsworth appeared to let the election date slip.

The defence minister blurted out the worst kept secret in Westminster yesterday during an interview with Sky News.

"I think the electorate will rue the day if they wind up with a Conservative government in charge of this country after the 6th of May," he said.

But Gordon Brown made light of the slip-up during his monthly press conference this morning, saying Mr Ainsworth had been referring to the local elections, which take place on the same day.

Brown press conference as-it-happened

The prime minister used the hour-long session to insist on continued fiscal stimuli for the economy, despite expectations that tomorrow's Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures will mark the end of the recession.

A sprightly and confident performance from Mr Brown convinced many observers that would indeed be the result of the official figures tomorrow, but he insisted that taking action to cut the deficit too early could cripple the UK's recovery.

Hours earlier, David Cameron began the day with his monthly press conference, in which he focused on his Broken Britain agenda.

Cameron press conference as-it-happened

The Tory leader insisted serious case reviews should be published in full, rather than just their executive summary.

Some observers suggest his use of the topic since the Doncaster case ended last week showed a willingness to politicise the attack, but Mr Cameron insists he is combating the perception of a Westminster stitch up.

"This wasn't an attack on any one party or any one government - we made that clear right from the outset," he clarified.

"It was part of the honest and straightforward debate about mending the broken society that I have been addressing ever since I became leader of the Conservative party over four years ago.

"But Labour's response has shown just how little they have to contribute to this debate."

Mr Brown adopted an altogether different tone during his conference, saying "the rush to generalisations" did no credit to the people of Edlington or Britain.

There was continued disagreement on the economy. Mr Brown insisted there was an international consensus that cutting fiscal stimuli now would threaten the recovery.

"This is the view of all major world leaders and is also the view of the International Monetary Fund," he said.

"Any party that is suggesting we make serious cuts in the economy today is putting the recovery at huge risk."

But Mr Cameron said the risk to the UK reputation if it didn't act now would constitute the real threat to the economy.

"Labour's debt is one of the biggest threats to our recovery," he said.

"The government's promise to halve the deficit in four years has frankly failed to convince those we need to convince about Britain's future.

"The government's approach, to coin a phrase, is to do nothing."

Meanwhile, across London, Vince Cable was stressing the compatibility of the Lib Dem's banking policies with those of Barack Obama, who last week declared his intention to tackle the sector.

Lib Dems plot to break up the banks

The Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman said it was time for a UK version of the Glass Steagall Act, a Depression-era piece of American legislation which separated retail and investment activities until the 1990s.

"There is a big, structural, issue which until recently was being studiously avoided by both the government and the Tories," Mr Cable said.

"Since the banking crisis broke in November 2008, I have argued that this question cannot be ducked since the British global, banks which are too big to fail are too big to bail out and are a danger to the systemic stability of the economy.

"Now that President Obama has taken on the issue of breaking up the banks on his side of the Pond, it is time that we do the same in the UK."

Today's series of major political conferences and speeches are just the latest bout of activity in a general election campaign which began, in all but name, as soon as parliament returned from the Christmas break.


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