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Melanie Batley

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Cameron Got so Much Right, but Shame About the Credit Cards

Posted: 06/10/11 01:00

When ordinary Britons woke-up yesterday morning to read the headlines that Cameron was instructing them to promptly pay off their credit card bills, the sound of chokes on cornflakes was heard throughout the land. "How dare that little Tory toff tell me off about my Visa bill?", they thought.

What a shame! Just when they had an uninterrupted 48 hours of starting to like the man...

Despite those last minute speech revisions yesterday (which eliminated the credit card payoff dictat), Wednesday's headlines marred an otherwise flawless string of performances by the Prime Minister from Manchester this week.

Rest assured, that was not the message Cameron's office wanted to lead on. Top excerpts released by the Party before the speech highlighted sentiments of understanding about the personal economic difficulties people have been facing. Plus it included a sunny rallying cry for the country not to be 'paralysed by gloom and fear'.

On that score, Cameron was set to achieve the perfect tone to build the credibility he needed to solidify his vision for leadership. Don't forget, demonstrating leadership was the top goal that the Party wanted to pull-off during the conference.

There were some great lines in that speech. Cameron said, "It is an anxious time. Prices and bills keep going up -- petrol, the weekly shop, electricity. On the news it's job losses, cutbacks, closures. You think about tuition fees, and house prices, the cost of a deposit, and wonder how our children will cope."

This is what the people have been waiting to hear from a Prime Minister that they otherwise have not been able to personally relate to, and from a political party that they still distrust.

Cameron also talked about how this recession is different from others. He defined it as a 'debt crisis' caused by too many individuals, businesses, banks and governments borrowing too much. He told the Conference that, "The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts."

He's right, and everyone knows it.

But the fact remains that just 24 hours before, he was prepared to tell the nation, "That means households -- all of us-- paying off the credit card and store card bills."

Now aside from the fact that no one believes this man owes money on a store card, a message like this is the last thing that people want to hear right now over their morning tea, even if it's true.

The households gripped by debt cringe every time the postman arrives, and they knew before yesterday morning that they needed pay off their credit cards. Not only that, but the last minute speech revisions making out a different message seemed a desperate spin attempt; the kind reminiscent of the worst aspects of the Blair era. This was not a good move at a time when people demand authenticity from their politicians. It might have been better for him to keep that line and endure the fire, or instead use the platform to explain his way out of the negative headlines.

The point remains that the original draft of the speech was correct, even if it was the wrong time to tell people. It is irresponsible to spend money you don't have, and people do need to reduce their personal debt. Then again, so does the Government, businesses and banks, and the injustice most people feel is that the people running these institutions aren't unemployed right now.

We all look back at the free-wheeling credit bonanza of the 90s and noughties and shake our heads at our naiveté. Sure, many people were irresponsible about their personal finances, taking on debt they would have had no way of paying off. But millions of others are in debt because the recession hit, they lost their jobs and they couldn't pay their bills. This is a serious point, which is why the credit card comment, whether or not edited out of the 'official speech' will not be forgotten.

Let's not focus on this misstep though. David Cameron gave a convincing performance this week about his ability to relate to the hardships people are facing, and his capability to take the lead to get the country back on better footing. For those achievements, following the party conference, the Conservative Party should consider itself in a better position to advance many of the worthy policy initiatives it announced this week.