Slip-ups, GDP and poll ratings threaten to derail Cameron speech

By Ian Dunt 

A slip-up over credit card debt, poor GDP figures and some gloomy poll results all conspired to derail David Cameron's speech to conference this afternoon.

The prime minister was forced to tweak a line of his speech after overnight press briefings led many news reports to suggest he was calling on Britons to pay back their personal debts as soon as possible.

Such a move would have potentially triggered an even worse economic outlook by decreasing consumer spending. Politically, it also made Mr Cameron look dangerously out-of-touch, with many families struggling to find the money for day-to-day needs, let alone stepping up their debt repayments.

At lunchtime it emerged the line had changed from "that means households paying off the credit card" to "that's why household are paying down their credit card".

The credit card line was not the least of the prime minister's troubles, however, as official figures revised UK growth down from 0.2% to 0.1%, handing even more ammunition to his political opponents.

A ComRes survey for ITV News found 54% rated Mr Cameron's handling of the economy "fairly or very poor", while 57% felt the same way about his attempts to turn the eurocrisis to the UK's advantage.

The poll results will be read with anxiety by Downing Street. Economic trust is the one key policy area where the Conservatives have persistently outperformed other parties.

The speech came as the eurocrisis escalates, with Moody's credit rating agency cutting Italy by three notches, from Aa2 to A2.

Meanwhile federal reserve chairman Ben Bernanke warned that the US recovery was "close to faltering".

Ministers concede that it will be difficult for the UK to avoid a double-dip recession if Europe and America fail to recover.

But Mr Cameron tried put the persistent gloom to one side this afternoon in order to present an optimistic outlook for the UK economy, relying on Britain's "hard-working, creative" attitude to pull it through the crisis.

To those who believed Britain was "on the path of certain decline", he said: "I am here to tell you that is not true.

"If we correct the mistakes and take on the vested interests of the past, I know we can turn this ship around."

The prime minister talked of the "spirit of Britain", adding: "Some say that to succeed… we need to become more like India, China or Brazil. I say we need to become more like us, the real us."

He continued: "Slowly, but surely, we're laying the foundations for a better future. But this is the crucial point: it will only work if we stick with it."

Responding to those who ask why "the good times are so long coming", he said: "The answer is straightforward but uncomfortable.

"This was no normal recession; we're in a debt crisis. It was caused by too much borrowing, by individuals, businesses, banks and – most of all – governments."

The speech brought the Tory party conference – and the conference season itself – to a close. Parliament returns next Monday.