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October 10, 2012 1:14 pm
“There is nothing complicated about me,” David Cameron said. His enemies would agree, arguing that the prime minister represents an ideological vacuum and seeks to be all things to all people.
The conference speech provides a chance to answer the question: what does he stand for? Is he a true eurosceptic? Is he a small state evangelist? Does he still believe in green issues? Or is he – more likely – the ultimate pragmatist?
“The Conservative party is for everyone: north or south, black or white, straight or gay,” he said. The party is also for the “vulnerable” and the Big Society is not dead.
Overall, however, this was a clear, undiluted pitch for the C2 social class of voters in marginal constituencies who will decide the general election of 2015, with the argument that poor people should pull themselves up by the bootstraps rather than rely on the state.
“There is only one real route out of poverty and it is work,” Mr Cameron told the conference. The message could not be clearer. And again: “Work isn’t slavery; it’s poverty that is slavery”.
Labour’s riposte will be that job opportunities are fewer than they would have been without the government’s austerity drive. (Despite the million jobs created in the private sector since 2010).
Critics often seek to dismiss the prime minister as an over-privileged fop who has never faced any impediments to success. Not quite so in Mr Cameron’s version of events: his grandmother was abandoned, his father disabled but uncomplaining. “Not a hard luck story, but a hard work story.”
The party’s tone had already hardened during the course of the week, with a further round of tough cuts to benefit spending promised and the so-called “batter a burglar” laws to allow homeowners to use force against intruders. Mr Cameron himself appeared to depict the unemployed as feckless by portraying them as “playing computer games all day”.
All in all, this is a package for the aspirational working class: the patriotic “strivers” who love the Queen, the armed forces and entrepreneurship – while resenting the idle.
Some argue that the economic malaise has pushed the prime minister further to the right, forcing him to back public spending cuts for which he originally had little appetite.
True or not, he is now locked into the party mantra that the country must “live within its means” – even if success is looking less certain by the day.
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