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Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson: There was Churchillian hope and Thatcherite resolve in Cameron's speech

At Birmingham, David Cameron had a simple task: to defy Kierkegaard. Either/Or; there was a widespread assumption that Mr Cameron would have to choose. Was he still a moderniser, or would he fall back on traditional Tory themes? Was he a compassionate Conservative, or would he take a tough line on undeserving welfare claimants? Would he offer hope to the struggling classes, or would he persevere with austerity? There was a simple answer to all those questions. He would reject bogus antitheses and do what is best in the national interest.

You cannot help the struggling classes by neglecting the deficit. Allowing the able-bodied young to slide and stumble into the sink destiny of subsidised idleness is not compassion. It is cruelty. We live in hard times. There is only one way out: hard thinking in the pursuit of realism. That was what David Cameron offered his party, and his country.

It is not easy to win cheers when you are delivering a message with such a high pessimism content. Mr Cameron managed it, because he also offered resolution, leadership and, ultimately, hope. It was almost a Churchillian performance; he too could make gloom sing. There was also an element of Margaret Thatcher and TINA: there is no alternative. Although she did not often use the phrase, it came to summarise her refusal to bend and buckle. We need that spirit now. This is no time for either.

As might be apparent, I thought that it was a good speech, perhaps even a great one. We will not be able to award that accolade until we see the longer-term consequences. I was not alone in my assessment. My friend Iain Martin, a frequent Camero-sceptic who has not forgiven David Cameron for his failure to win the Election outright, said that it was: "His best speech for years. Brilliant".

In terms of importance, the obvious comparisons are 2005 and 2007. 2005 won him the leadership. Mr Cameron himself is the first to insist that if you merely read that text, it is hard to tell what the fuss was about. To understand that, you have to view the performance. It may not have been strong on policy. It could not have been more powerful on youth, renewal and the road back to victory.

2007 was the speech which helped to dissuade Gordon Brown from calling an Election. Behind in the polls, widely expected to lose and to become a forty-one year old politician with a glittering future behind him, David Cameron was gloriously insolent in his defiance - and it worked. A week later, I wrote that in demanding an election, Mr Cameron had sounded like an officer in the Light Brigade giving his troopers a pep talk before they all mounted to follow Lord Cardigan. But the charge into the valley of death was unnecessary. Unlike the Russians, Gordon Brown ran away.
So now we have had another superb rallying performance. There is only one response to that: what next? Mr Cameron has created momentum. He now has to sustain it. The speech should have dealt with a lot of the doubts about who he is and what he stands for. But they will seep back, unless he repeats the message and keeps on repeating it. Politicians regularly over-estimate the impact of a single speech, and fail to understand the vital importance of repetition. It is now up to Mr Cameron to ensure that in twelve months' time, no-one is saying: "who is he and what does he believe?"

Everywhere one looks - domestically, internationally - there are imponderables, unpredictables, troubles and threats. Never has there been a more urgent need for strong leadership. It would have been impossible for David Cameron to do more to project that, but he will need to repeat the dosage, regularly.

Even so, yesterday was praiseworthy. Immediately after the speech, I spoke to one of the PM's senior advisers. "What did you think?" was his eager enquiry. "Not bad: not bad at all. You and your Boss are entitled to take the rest of the day off".

There is no harm in a brief interlude of relaxation, before the hard pounding ahead.


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