Sunday, 7 October 2012

Cameron promotes aspirational economy..

BREAKING NEWS: David Cameron has been on the Marr show. He has reiterated his party's opposition to the proposed mansion tax, although he did say that "we are going to take more action" to ensure that the rich pay their fair share, adding that the rich pay more in income tax now than under Labour.

The Prime Minister also appeared to reject an in/out referendum on Europe in the immediate future, adding:

"Most people don't want to leave the EU, they want to change it. I want to change it."

Mr Cameron confirmed the council tax freeze which has made many of the papers this morning. He also claimed not to be taking Mr Miliband lightly, adding mysteriously that "I am on my fourth Labour leader". I can only count three. Perhaps Mr Cameron is getting a little ahead of himself...


Good morning from a gloriously sunny Birmingham, where David Cameron is striking an optimistic tone. He wants to be buoyant, upbeat, full of possibility. He seemed particularly perky on Marr just now. He knows he has to use this week not just to trump Ed Miliband's One Nation guff but to counter the sense that somehow he has lost his appetite for the struggle. 'Does he actually enjoy being Prime Minister?' is the question I've heard often from Conservatives in the past week. Conveying personal purpose will be vital. But will he surprise us? Looking across the papers this morning, it's striking how familiar it all feels: stand up to Europe yadda benefit scroungers yaddayadda no wealth tax yadda immigration tax avoidance. It's all drearily familiar. No wonder the public are exasperated with politicians. 

In his interview with the Sunday Telegraph , the Prime Minister launched a number of his headline initiatives for conference, including the emphasis the party will place on the aspirations of 'strivers'. The Prime Minister said that:

"Deep inside the Conservative soul is the way to make sure you succeed, not only taking those big decisions, but actually firing up the aspiration of people to get the first home, the first job, the first mortgage, the first car, the first success in life." 

The package of moves unveiled are all designed to ease pressure on the 'squeezed middle'. Council taxes will be frozen for the third year running, and rail fare rises on regulated routes will be capped with increases at no more than RPI plus one per cent. Mr Cameron is also prepared to risk a showdown with Europe over the budget between 2014 and 2020, although he stopped short of promising the referendum held so dear by the party base:

"I want to set out as Conservative leader...a new settlement, and then we'll seek fresh consent for that new settlement. And, as I've said, that could be via a referendum or it could be via a general election, depending on the timings of all these things."

Key to Dave's new strategy is an admission that he has failed to communicate his vision for Britain so far. The emphasis on an aspiration economy can be read as a way of rebranding the party which does not entail an abandonment of the centre ground:

"Are the Conservatives deserting the common ground of British politics? Absolutely not. I think the common ground of British politics, right now, ought to be [doing] everything you can to fire up the engines of enterprise and aspiration to get the economy moving, while holding onto the things that people care about passionately, like the NHS. I think that is absolutely where we are." 

The declaration will please Tory reformers, particularly those in the 80 strong 2020 group. Their chairman Greg Barker backed the progressive wing of the party in an interview with today's Independent on Sunday, saying:

"As we reach the halfway mark in Parliament, and the general election comes into view, people will be focused on the progressive centre ground of British politics, which is where general elections are won. As William Hague said, that is the ground that David Cameron staked out and we will not surrender it. This is not a small faction in the party, but a real, broad movement determined not only to remain on that ground, but actually refresh and revive the agenda that David Cameron inhabited in opposition and took into government."

Mr Cameron also used his Telegraph interview to debut his new attack lines, accusing Labour of "signalling right but turning left" under Ed Miliband's leadership. He added that:

"It is difficult to give a speech without notes for 70 minutes. It's even more difficult when you haven't got anything to say."

In a line which also appears in an interview with the Sun, he goes further. Mocking Mr Miliband's use of the 'one nation' phrase, he says that:

"It's one nation - but it sounds more like East Germany than Great Britain." 

It looks like the gloves are off - provided that Dave's own team lay off him for long enough to allow him to land his punches on Red Ed. 


The council tax freeze and rail fare cap policies identified by Mr Cameron are also trotted out by George Osborne in his interview today with the Mail on Sunday, along with the idea that fines levied on banks could be used to fund armed forces charities. The Chancellor also pledges that the Lib Dems will not be granted either a mansion tax or any other form of wealth tax while in the Coalition:

"We are not going to have a mansion tax, or a new tax that is a percentage value of people's properties. Before the Election they will call it a mansion tax, but people will wake up the day after the election and discover suddenly their more modest home has been labelled a mansion. We don't think people who have worked hard, saved up to buy a home, should be clobbered with a mansion tax."

Mr Osborne's commitment to austerity appears equally undimmed. He contrasts what he sees as Britain's prudent course with those taken by the country's European neighbours:

"Western countries face a simple choice: Are they going to sink or swim? There will be lots of countries, neighbours of ours, who are going to duck difficult choices. In 20 or 30 years' time they will be much poorer. 

"The economy is healing. But it's a longer and harder road that we have to travel down. There will have to be further cuts." 

The message is plain - it's hurting, but it's working. The problem the Chancellor may face this week, though, is not from those who believe he is cutting too far and too fast, but from those who don't feel he is cutting at all. 


Aside from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, the great and the good from the Conservative hierarchy have descended upon the pages of the Sunday papers like a plague of locusts this morning. Like the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, they come with one message - "striving" is good.

In the Sunday Express, party chairman Grant Shapps hammers away on his party's commitment to "strivers" line, arguing that:

"We are the party of the strivers. We are the ones who 'get it' because we know what it's like to go into business and worry about every penny.We are the party of the strivers. We are the ones who 'get it' because we know what it's like to go into business and worry about every penny."

Mr Shapps adds that his Michael Green alias was "clear" to those reading the website and that he is proud of his business background.

Elsewhere, Theresa May brandishes a familiar conference weapon in theSunday Times (£) - a crackdown on immigration abuses. The Home Secretary also reveals that she rebuked Thrasher over his gate-gate outburst, saying that she "was not happy". 

Philip Hammond, on the other hand, turns to the economy. The good news is that it is "healing", he tells the Observer. It isn't the policy which is wrong, he adds, but the data:

"You won't find the business community who thinks the economy is doing right now what the data tells us it is doing. There is a mood that the economy is healing."

Taking account of the nation's mood and not the hard data seems a familiar ploy. Happiness index, anyone?


Jeremy Hunt's decision to publicly back a 12 week abortion limit has been roundly criticised as bad timing in this morning's papers. Writing in theSunday Telegraph, Ian Martin argues that any Conservative politician interviewed over the course of the conference can now expect to have their position on abortion probed. The row also opens Number 10's handling of the press up to further criticism, he writes:

"The interview was approved by No 10, and it is even being suggested that it was their idea and they were seeking a way of reintroducing Mr Hunt after his Leveson-related difficulties and promotion to Health Secretary. If that is the case, it seems something of an oversight, with abortion already running as a story after Maria Miller's comments, not to better anticipate questioning on the subject. Mr Hunt could have responded that, while his voting records speaks for itself, he is now Health Secretary and has a duty to be mindful of the sensitivities and the views of all those who use the NHS. Said a Tory MP yesterday: 'I give up. Downing Street are a bunch of amateurs. We should be talking about jobs, the economy and fighting crime. Now we are locked into a needless row about abortion.' One of his colleagues blamed Craig Oliver, the Government's head of communications: 'What is Oliver doing putting Jeremy in a position where this happens? It is quite inept.'"


A ComRes survey of Conservative constituency chairmen has shown that 71 per cent feel that the Prime Minister should drop his pledge to institute gay marriage by 2015. The Sunday Telegraph reports that only one in ten chairmen reports that Mr Cameron's standing in the party has been enhanced by the measures. Still, with Dave's public commitment to what he sees as the "centre ground", Number 10 does not look as though it is for turning on the issue, whatever the base might think.


"At least we know where the trouble will come from," one Number 10 aide is reported to have said in the Mail on Sunday. Bo-Jo's speech on Tuesday will inevitably invite comparisons between the Mayor of London and the Prime Minister - comparisons which will be unflattering for Dave if this morning's papers are anything to go by. The Opinium poll in the Observer this morning makes grim reading for the PM. Not only are the Labour party 11 points ahead of the Conservatives, but also finds that 51 per cent of the electorate have a positive view of Boris, with only 29 per cent positive about Mr Cameron, and Mr Osborne pulling in a measly 11 per cent.

The Sunday Times (£) reports that Dave's aides are so concerned about Boris' speech that they have insisted on vetting any draft. However, as Andrew Rawnsely notes in the Observer, any attempt to keep the Mayor on-topic is probably doomed to failure, especially he is being given his own rally by ConservativeHome on Monday night in where:

"Says one of his friends: 'That will be where you see Boris unleashed.' Since he is never exactly leashed at any time that should be interesting."


Interviewed in the People this morning, Lord Ashcroft says that Labour's success in Manchester makes Mr Cameron's job a lot tougher. The peer writes that:

"Ed Miliband will not be the secret weapon they hoped. After a shaky start as Labour leader they hoped he would be as much of a turn-off for voters as Neil Kinnock – but there are worrying signs that he is starting to show he knows what he is doing."

If Mr Cameron wants to remain Prime Minister he needs to "convince people who work hard but have little to show for it that he is on their side." Clearly he was writing before seeing this morning's papers. Had he seen them, he would have been in no doubt that the Tory Party is quite infatuated with the "striving" classes.


As if it wasn't bad enough for Mr Cameron with traditionalists, reformers, Boris and Lord Ashcroft all taking shots at him, Hugh Grant is also cross. This morning's Observer splash is the news that Mr Grant, Charlotte Church, Jude Law and others have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister claiming to be "alarmed and distressed" by reports that Mr Cameron wanted to give newspaper self-regulation another go. 


The Prime Minister made his Twitter debut yesterday:

@David_Cameron: "I'm starting Conference with this new Twitter feed about my role as Conservative Leader. I promise there won't be 'too many tweets...'" 


Opinium/Observer poll: Con 30%, Lab 41%, Lib Dem 9%, Other 20%


In The Telegraph

Matthew d'Ancona - The Man with the Plan can't keep avoiding the Blond One

Janet Daley - Mitt Romney teaches the Tories a lesson in conviction

Ian Martin - Jeremy Hunt's comments on abortion were poorly timed

Alasdair Palmer - We can't have Sir Jeremys running the Civil Service 

Best of the rest

Martin Ivens in The Sunday Times (£) - Now, Dave, will you take Ed seriously?

John Rentoul in The Independent on Sunday - Dave's best bet is a repeat of the 1983 show 

Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer - Boris Johnson reminds Tories of what David Cameron has lost

Peter Hitchens in The Mail on Sunday - The sheep have stampeded - and they'll sweep Ed straight into No10


Today: Conservative party conference opens in Birmingham.

02:30 pm: Conference opened by Paul Swaddle, Andrew Feldman and Grant Shapps.

02:50 pm: Defence and European & International Affairs by Philip Hammond and William Hague.