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David Cameron seeks to reassure Conservative voters and members in the wake of the Liberal Democrat conference

By Paul Goodman

CAMERON-TINTIN The big David Cameron seasonal political interview usually takes place the weekend before the Conservative conference.  To try to rally the troops, it's often placed in the Daily Telegraph.  The venue for his interrogation is the same, but the timing is different - coming today, a week early.  This seems to have less to do with today's Labour leadership result than with last week's Liberal Democrat conference.  On tax avoidance, Trident, free schools, student finance  and capitalism itself - thanks to Vince Cable - it made disconcerting viewing for Party members.  The Prime Minister has chosen the paper that more party members probably read than any other to try to reassure them.

He won't succeed on all fronts.  On a graduate tax, he says:  “It does have disadvantages but I hope to come up with a good answer.”  It looks as though that solution will contain some graduate tax element.  On Trident, "he is adamant that any decision about the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent can only be taken on the basis of military and financial need, and not political considerations".  Many Conservatives will reserve judgment on the basis of the decision until it's made.  (Defence as a whole, by the way, looks like a special spending review problem.)  They'll have more sympathy for the calm style of Government to which he refers, manifested by Downing Street's response to the Cumbria shootings and the Bloody Sunday enquiry.

So what, to put it bluntly, is in the Coalition for Tories?  The Prime Minister's most convincing interview answer comes on the deficit: he points out, without quite saying so, both that the Liberal Democrats have essentially adopted the Conservatives' policy, and that reducing the deficit is the Government's core mission.  If one asks, as I did recently, how blue the Coalition is, the evidence is that on the deficit, and especially public service reform (which, by the way, doesn't feature much in Telegraph interview) it's shaping up to be no less blue and radical (and arguably more) than Thatcher - provided that Ministers have the bottle to see their plans through.  On crime and the constitution, it's much more yellow-flavoured.

I wrote recently that it's time to get behind the Government - not least because reducing the deficit is essential: it deserves support almost for that reason alone.  But there's a deep problem at the heart of the Coalition.  The Telegraph leads the Cameron interview on possible future middle class tax cuts, on the basis of some very guarded sentences by the Prime Minister on the matter.  At the same time, however, he describes the enterprise he's leading as a "Partnership Government".  And Vince Cable is an important member of that partnership, who seems to have set himself against tax cuts for people other than the poorest group of taxpayers.

It follows that the Prime Minister can't therefore laugh Cable's speech off by saying "Vince is Vince" - or suggest that "Parternship Government" is easily compatible with tax cuts which gives the Telegraph it's headline this morning.  The same problem applies elsewhere - especially, perhaps, to prisons, the immigration cap, and the EU.


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