David Cameron's speech to the Conservative Party Conference today was the best speech I have ever heard him give to any audience. It was passionate, genuine and sincere in its delivery. It was straight talking with tone and substance that the ordinary man in the street could understand.
But, and there is a big but, on reflection, it seems that looking at the economics our Prime Minister may have conned the electorate into thinking he can deliver the policy announcements he made.
Today, Cameron offered a range of tax cuts, raising the tax threshold to £12,500 and the rate at which taxpayers will pay 40% tax will increase from £41,000 to £50,000 and no one on the minimum wage working 30 hours a week will pay income tax at all. The costs of these commitments are estimated at 7.2 billion pounds a year.
There were other areas where more money was promised by the PM:
- ring fencing and increasing in real terms spending on the NHS, estimated at £3billion pounds a year
- overseas aid spending would be ring-fenced
- defence expenditure increased in real terms over the next five years; and
- Theresa May’s increases in spending for the police and security services for the new counter-terrorism strategy; another multi-million pound commitment.
Did Cameron say where the funding would come from to honour these commitments? No, not really. An additional 25 billion pounds worth of cuts will be made but where will it come from to pay for these populist policies – schools, local services, reducing the public sector wage bill? Well, all we know is that 3 billion of it would come from savings in the welfare budget; the rest we will have to wait for from George I guess.
Moving the economics aside, the other weakness for David Cameron is that he ‘has previous’ on making promises and not delivering - do you remember the cast iron guarantee on the Lisbon Treaty? Do you remember that by 2015 the deficit will have been eliminated? Or immigration will be reduced to the tens of thousands? No reorganization of the NHS? I could go on.
The Prime Minister’s speech also covered his pitch to those voters who are considering voting UKIP. He promised substantial reform of the EU, although he gave no details of what he wants re-negotiated, but only last night EU officials made it clear that there would be no prospect of substantial reform of the EU proposed by the UK. It’s hard to negotiate with a European brick wall.
Then the Prime Minister played one of his UKIP ace cards – hotly anticipated it was announced that the Conservatives would scrap the 1998 Human Rights Act and introduce a new British Bill of Rights. To listen to the rapture from conference delegates you would have thought that meant no more Human Rights fiascos - well, no, that is not what it meant; or at least that’s what I think.
Why? Well because Cameron did not announce that the new Bill of Rights would replace the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and that Britain would no longer be a signatory to the ECHR. So basically, any new British Bill of Rights that does not involve a withdrawal from the ECHR will potentially not be worth the paper it is printed on. This may develop more in an election campaign, but anyone thinking Cameron's announcement means an end to European Judges interfering in human rights cases affecting Britain should perhaps think again.
So what was, and what appeared to be on the surface a very impressive, powerful speech at the time, I fear will not survive the scrutiny it has already attracted and certainly struggle to be carried through to next May. Cameron, I suspect is once again in danger of becoming a Prime Minister remembered for rhetoric rather than one who delivered on his election promises.