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Cameron warned to keep his focus on the economy

Tim Montgomerie


Very mixed newspapers for the Government this morning. The Telegraph isn't leading on the Budget at all but on ill-chosen remarks from Lib Dem Armed Forces Minister, Nick Harvey; “How long is a piece of string? We don’t know how long this is going to go on for.”

It's more positive in The Times (£) where plans to help first-time buyers get top billing. Better still, the Mail, Sun and Express ("Millions to get tax cuts") all lead with the news of the higher income tax threshold and the likely cut in petrol duty.

But if the front page splash of the Mail is positive the coverage inside, on Libya, will worry 10 Downing Street. There's a big splash on the US army helicopter that fired on people apparently coming to the aid of a downed American pilot. One story is headlined "Plans for NATO takeover of mission 'are in chaos'". A large table notes that the "cost of war is £6m a day and rising". Pro-War MPs out of step... with public opinion says another report. The Mail also carries the Nick Harvey quote over two pages.

The leader in the Mail gives the biggest clue to the mood of the newspaper. It lists the problems facing the British family: Food prices through the roof... Petrol at 133p a litre... Public sector borrowing at £11.8billion last month... Pensioners struggling to get by, as rock-bottom interest rates mean negative returns on savings... Living standards falling at their fastest rate since the 1970s... Tax increases in the pipeline next month... Inflation at its highest in 20 years, topped in the EU only by Romania, Bulgaria and Estonia... Businesses wrestling with excessive red tape... The newspaper then thunders:

"Incredibly, this is the moment the Coalition chooses to become embroiled, at unknowable cost, in a high-risk foreign military campaign whose duration and outcome are impossible to predict."

I believe that David Cameron and William Hague were 100% right to intervene in Libya and avert a humanitarian tragedy in Benghazi. They have also communicated to the Arab world - as it moves towards greater freedom - that the West is on the side of the people, not the tryants (Hague said yesterday that the 'Arab Spring' is more impactful than 9/11). In the long-run, as the Middle East moves inexorably away from today's despotic regimes, that signal will be of vital importance to our strategic relations with the new governments of the region.

The Tory leadership needs to be careful though. On crime, energy prices and Europe it is already dangerously out-of-step with its core voters. With the most difficult economic times ahead it still needs a super-narrative and it needs to be more focused on the issues that really matter. I suggest three: The standard of living. Welfare bills. The nation's schools.


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