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Cameron goes on the defensive – "Our battle is with Labour," he tells Tory activists

By Peter Hoskin
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What was the good part of David Cameron’s speech to Conservative spring forum? Probably the stuff I mentioned earlier. In speaking about aspiration, Mr Cameron didn’t set the stage alight – but it did demonstrate a consistency that his leadership has often lacked. Now he needs to make sure to follow-up the words with more words and, more importantly, deeds. It’s all very well talking about aspiration, but he needs to continue legislating for it too.

As for the rest of the speech, it was fairly anodyne. Mr Cameron seemed stiff and mechanical, and so was his prose. He mentioned the Olympics, but it was in connection with £150 million of new sports funding, rather than with – what would be natural, and more engaging that the phrase “aspiration nation” – the main theme of his speech. And he presented list after list after list, from the Coalition’s achievements to Labour’s failings. This was rhetoric by rote.

The problem, I suspect, was that Mr Cameron was on the defensive. This, remember, was his first proper address to party activists since the defeat in Eastleigh, and there was as much pleading as leading in it. Even the spikiest passage – his extended attack on Labour, which warned of “Ed Balls back in the Treasury” – ended on an anguished note. “I tell you,” he said, “our battle is with Labour.” Whatever the Prime Minister’s intent, that is going to be reported as an appeal for party unity.

Oh, and before I sign off, there was actually another good thing in the speech. When he touched upon welfare, Mr Cameron spoke more about helping the unemployed back into work – “we’ve done things like introduce real work experience to get you off the dole and into a job” – than about cutting benefits. This marks a happy change from a few months ago, and better captures the moral impulse behind IDS’s welfare reforms.

Anyway, you can read Mr Cameron’s speech here.


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