DAVID CAMERON started his 2013 party conference speech with the emphasis on hard work. Indeed “hardworking people” was in the very first sentence. You could tell that the entire speech had been tweaked to be more inclusive of the ordinary person (“don’t forget the man in the street Dave, they’re angry and fed up”) – as long as that person wasn’t a skiver, stupid or a foreign prisoner, in which case he had plans for you.
Cameron delivered the speech in front of a motif made from the Union Jack. Fitting, as his speech was deeply patriotic; he mentioned the word British or Britain nearly two dozen times.
But if you shut your eyes you could imagine the whole first half of the address taking place in the headmaster’s office. It was full of tale-telling. “Labour did this, Sir, Labour did that. Labour made the mess Sir, I was just helping to clear up Sir. I was just helping the boy up Sir, not kicking him to the floor.” It was defensive, brittle and at times, petty.
Cameron has quite a nice voice, I’ll give him that. If you keep your eyes shut some more, you could imagine him voicing over an M&S ad. It’s plummy and juicy. He always sounds like he’s keeping some spittle in reserve, just in case. He sounds ‘naice’. So it’s hard to take him seriously, even once you’ve opened your eyes and seen his eyes narrow and his cheeks go red and how he jabs the air with his finger, looking into the camera and getting all “I’ll take you down to Chinatown” when talking about Labour.
“Don’t you dare lecture anyone on the NHS again,” he threatened, when talking about everything the Conservatives have done for the health service and how little Labour did. As for the “the casino economy meets the welfare society meets the broken education system” that the last government left us with, he promised the Opposition: “We will never let you forget it.”
Like an Oscar acceptance speech, Cameron also thanked his team. Which was a nice touch.
He thanked Theresa May for getting the terrorist Abu Qatada out of the country; praised George Osborne’s “brilliant” speech on Monday; said William Hague was the finest foreign secretary he could ask for; Iain Duncan Smith is, apparently the “most determined champion for social justice” the party has ever had. And then there was Michael Gove.
Michael Gove got a lot of praise. I thought at one point it was building up to a marriage proposal but instead we learned that Gove is “a cross between Mr Chips and the Duracell bunny” and a man with a “belief in excellence”.
As Cameron ejaculated over each of them in turn – and I use that word in its more historical context – each allowed themselves a tight, smug little smile. Hague’s forehead beamed.
There was a lot in this speech. Whereas Miliband seemed to brush over things like education, Cameron said it was the very reason he had come into politics. He talked about schools, colleges, debt, hospitals, Thatcher, children, decency, planting trees, oak beams, buying your own home, jobs, immigration, social workers (clap for them please), soldiers in Afghanistan (clap and stand for them please), adoption, setting up your own business (300,000 have since Cameron came to power, how many are still left he didn’t say) and two ordinary people called Emily and James who had just bought their own home, and a lawnmower, thanks to him and his team. Wonderful stuff! My God, it all sounds so good, why is everyone so miserable?
It took 30 minutes for Cameron to mention the coalition, which he did in relation to tax cuts and then, in disparaging fashion “anyone see their conference? I missed most of it” – guffaw, guffaw. Interestingly, no mention of them at all in the official version of the speech; you can almost imagine someone reading through it and saying at the last minute: “Dave, Dave, you haven’t mentioned them.”