So how did David Cameron’s speech in Manchester, on Wednesday, compare? You can read the full transcript here. Well, for a start it was much longer, some 6,600 words compared to Corbyn’s 2,700, but of course size isn’t everything. Did David inspire me, one of the multitude of undecided voters, to back him and his party?
David Cameron is already the duly elected Prime Minister of our country so any discussion about electing him to that post is moot. It is also rendered moot by the fact that he has stated categorically that he will not be leading his party into the next election. So everything he had to say is about whether or not I will vote Conservative at the next election, rather than voting for him as Prime Minister.
The Spectator layout of the transcript of the speech makes it impossible for me to refer to paragraph numbers as I did last week, but they handily broke the speech down into policy areas, so it is those to which I will refer, but I’ll start off with passion.
There can be no doubt that Cameron displayed far more passion in the delivery of his speech than Corbyn. At times it sounded like Corbyn was reading from the phone book rather than trying to rally his troops. However, passion isn’t everything. Hitler made passionate speeches and look what happened to Germany under his rule. So leaving aside the passion, was there any substance? Perhaps this was a speech notable for what he didn't say rather than what he did. I'll return to that later.
Cameron didn’t waste too much time on congratulations and thank yous, which made up at least half of Corbyn’s speech. By about 500 words that was all done and dusted. His first subject of note was change within his own party, but that was mainly a retrospective, so another 330 meaningless words gone.
Then we got 170 words on Conservative values. I won’t bore you, you’ve heard them all before. The section ended with a warning about how much a threat Labour, under Corbyn, would be to those values. He was clearly speaking to the party faithful. Essentially he said that Labour would level down to achieve equality, whereas the Conservatives want to achieve equality by levelling up. Hmm. I agree with that sentiment, but given the past record of the Tories it’s hard to take them seriously. Levelling up requires quite a lot of investment and that wasn't mentioned.
We then move on to safe Tory ground, National Security; or do we? This from a government that has slashed the armed forces more than any other government since Pitt The Younger. But there’s more to national security than just the armed forces. He also focused on terrorism and a single act to bomb two British members of ISIL in Syria. I think from that we are supposed to extrapolate a full blown security policy. Onto this he tacked a vile personal attack on Jeremy Corbyn, misquoting him and his alleged comments regarding the death of Osama Bin Laden. He didn’t actually say the words, but I think he meant “you do the maths”.
There is currently a lot of public sympathy for the Syrian refugees and migrants from other countries and a strong feeling that his government isn’t doing enough to help. Nothing he said convinced me he was about to change that and I doubt that anything Cameron said would have helped to persuade the public that the Tories had the right approach.
Somehow from this he segued into references to new weapons coming into the military armoury, as though these were going to solve the refugee crisis. What is he going to do, use the new Hunter Killer submarines he referred to, to sink the refugees in their flimsy boats? All that is meaningless when it comes to a refugee crisis that is here and now and which is only going to get worse long before the two new aircraft carriers, which he also referred to, come into service.
To finish it off he told us what the British armed forces have done recently, without mentioning a single word about how far his government has cut their numbers. Well, Mr Cameron, maybe they could do a bit more if there were a few more of them - or is that too obvious?
Onto more Tory safe ground now, the economy; or is it? (sorry for repeating myself) First a reference to Northern Powerhouse without a single word on the steel industry and Redcar in particular. You don’t start a powerhouse by allowing businesses to close, Mr Cameron. The rest wasn’t so much a statement of Tory policy but an attack on Labour’s, including a laboured (pun intended) joke about a book called ‘The Joy Of Tax’ written by Richard Murphy, one of their economic gurus. Sorry Dave, what Labour intends may or may not be right for the economy, but what we want to know is what you and your government are going to do. It doesn’t matter how wrong Labour are if they don’t win the next election, but you are in government NOW.
Then onto the right-to-buy schemes which Labour hates but many Labour voters love. Dave is very big on home ownership, but not so big on home rental, so we didn’t hear much about a very important area of housing policy: building more social housing for those who can’t afford to buy or who don’t want to be burdened with home ownership. Because it is a burden; just ask any home owner on a low income. Hear the message Dave: some people don’t want to own their own homes and they also need somewhere to live.
The next area was social reform and can be summed up in a few words: It’s the economy, stupid. If the economy goes well then poverty is eradicated, just like that. Get everyone into work and there are no more poor people, despite the fact that employers use minimum wage laws to keep people poor and he himself is going to cut working tax credits for those very same low income families. Nothing, too, about giving people better skills so they don’t have to do the minimum wage jobs. Apparently you just have to do any old job and you won’t be poor anymore. Finally nothing on how poverty will be eradicated if the economy falters.
Lots to say on several major social issues without a word about how he intends dealing with them: drugs, prostitution, crime, homelessness, children in care etc. The worrying thing is that he wants to do with Social Services what he did with schools. Well, that’s been a roaring success, hasn’t it? (sarcasm for anyone that didn’t spot it)
A quick word about crime. Apparently crime is down by a quarter. No Dave, RECORDED crime is down by a quarter. Under current rules a large proportion of crimes are no longer recorded as such. Please don’t treat us like idiots. We know what is happening.
Well, this blog is starting to get as long as Cameron’s speech, so I had better hurry on. Lots to say on opportunity, ie promoting social mobility, but again a policy free zone, just lots of good intentions and again he’s relying on a strong economy to solve most of the problems for him. I wish I could have his faith, but experience tells me he’s wrong. We’ve had strong economies before but it didn’t eradicate poverty or improve social mobility.
The people in Britain who turn to extremism aren’t doing so because they are poor and down trodden, in fact they are very often the exact opposite. They are turning to it because they find nothing in Britain to which they feel they can attach their allegiance. That is the problem that has to be solved. Don’t ask me how. I’ve no more of a clue than anyone else on that score, but you won’t solve it by stopping people travelling and locking them up at home. It's a hearts and minds campaign and governments aren't too good at those. They take time and patience and a lot of pain staking work and it often doesn't provide quick results, all the things politicians hate because there's no instant glory to be harvested.
Extremists aren’t naughty children that you can send to their rooms until they’ve had a good think about what they’ve done. They believe that the west is waging an economic war against Islam and telling them they’re wrong isn’t going to cut it. You have to SHOW them they're wrong. Actions will always speak louder than words.
Dave’s only real idea for tackling extremism is to treat British madrasas like schools and have them inspected by OFSTED. This is in the full knowledge that most British Muslims that go abroad to fight aren’t radicalised in madrasas but over the internet. Good one Dave; missing the goal by a mile.
And that was just about it, bar a few more anodyne words of summing up. For that he got a standing ovation. Well, I said last week that party conferences are the place of the party faithful and the activists, so they were bound to applaud, but what about me? Did I applaud?
Not much. In fact not at all. Just as with Corbyn last week I wasn’t told how Cameron was going to do any of the things he told us he wanted to do. He gave me no reason to believe that from where we are today he has the policies to get us where we want to be. Tell me the HOW Dave, then I can make an educated assessment of whether or not you are likely to succeed. Perhaps that's why the speech was policy free; he doesn't want us to be able to judge because he isn't too certain himself.
So what was missing? What didn’t he talk about?
By the way, Theresa, it's never a good idea to include nurses in an argument in a negative way. They are living saints as far as the general public are concerned and can do no wrong. It's one of the quickest ways to alienate voters.
Did Cameron and Hunt know about the £930 million deficit in the NHS budget for the first quarter of the year? Bet your life they did, but there was absolutely no mention of it in either of their speeches. Had it slipped their minds? The news was slipped out on a Friday because fewer people read newspapers on a Saturday and Sunday.
There was also nothing on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, either. While they may not be critical issues compared with the overall management of the economy they are a scandal and an important issue for the man in the street who has no choice over how much tax he pays. We may only be talking about a couple of billion pounds a year, but as a certain supermarket advert has it, every little helps. Convince us you have a workable solution Dave, or we may start to agree with the left wing that you are still doing favours for your rich friends.
Was it a better speech than Corbyn’s? Well, I guess it was, but in the same way that wire wool is better for you to use on your skin than a cheese greater. At the moment I’m still not thinking about which party is the best one to govern our country, I’m thinking about which one is the least worst and that can’t be good.
Once upon a time party conferences were matters for the party members alone. They were reported in the national press but in much the same way as cocktail parties were covered in the society pages. Nowadays every word is beamed around the world, so every word is significant, not just for the party faithful but for the rest of us as well.
The message that is sent out has to be meaningful to those who don’t support a party and also to those who don’t normally vote. They have to provide a reason to vote in the first place and then to vote for the particular party holding the conference. In my opinion both Corbyn and Cameron failed significantly to provide those reasons. In that respect Cameron’s speech was actually worse, because he effectively said “if you think I’m bad, imagine how much worse he (Corbyn) would be.” If that isn’t negative campaigning then I don’t know what is.
And that’s not what I want to hear from my political leaders.
Just a final word for Labour with regard to some of the people who 'support' them. Seeing people marching under Labour banners throwing eggs at politicians and calling people scum is not the way to encourage support from Middle England. You are judged by the company you keep. You either condemn and disown them or you will be associated with them and that will cost you votes.
Next week: sharks and the smell of something fishy in the on-line publishing industry.