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Cameron Didn't Say Much Except More of the Same - A Land of Opportunity for Just a Privileged Few

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In his speech to the Conservative party conference, David Cameron spoke for over 50 minutes but he said very little. No policies to deal with the huge cost of living crisis that has left people on average nearly £1,500 a year worse off since the General Election. And nothing for the millions of families up and down the county who have seen prices rise faster than their wages in 38 of the 39 months since Cameron became Prime Minister. For most people it must seem like Cameron is not so much trying to "finish the job", but finish them off.

Instead of offering practical policies to help hard working people, David Cameron spent almost the entire time talking about Ed Miliband and the Labour party. The BBC's political editor, Nick Robinson, tweeted that Cameron mentioned Labour no fewer than 25 times (he mentioned the cost of living three times). If this was a football match, the Tories are so defensive and on the back foot that they have got every player behind the ball and back in their own 18-yard box.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan asked the American public: Are you better off now than you were four years ago? After three and a half years of David Cameron, the answer in Britain is that people are much worse off. And this is a direct result of choices the Prime Minister has made. Choices that have led to the slowest recovery in 100 years with our economy growing by just 1.7% since the autumn of 2010, compared with the 6.5% predicted at the time. The UK is currently 3.3% below our pre-crisis peak whereas the USA is 4.6% above their pre-crisis peak. You wouldn't have guessed it from the self congratulatory tone of Cameron's speech, but nearly a million young people are unemployed today.

Over the last three and a half years, instead of standing up for Britain's families and businesses, David Cameron has stood up for just a privileged few, prioritising a tax cut for people earning over £150,000. What's more, in April this year, bank bonuses soared by 82% as people took advantage of the cut in the top rate of tax. Yet the Government refuses to repeat Labour's bank bonus tax.

Last week, Ed Miliband set out Labour's plan to deal with the cost of living crisis: resetting the energy market and freezing energy bills; backing small businesses by cutting business rates; and helping working families by expanding childcare. These are clear, costed policies showing Labour's priorities in tough times.

There was nothing like that from David Cameron. And what new announcements there were this week have already started to unravel. For example, their promise of marriage tax breaks - something the Tories have announced almost every year since 2005 - fell apart immediately with the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies pointing out that it would only help 31% of married couples and 18% of families with children. And even those people who could benefit would only get a maximum of £3.85 a week - less than the cost of a cheese and tomato sandwich in the Manchester conference centre.

The jobs scheme they announced would help just two per cent of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance if it was introduced today. It's less ambitious than Labour's compulsory jobs' guarantee, which would ensure that every young person unemployed for over a year, and every adult employed for over two years, would be offered a job - a job they would have to take or risk losing their benefits.

The Tories' pledge to create a surplus by 2020 might have sounded impressive to those who had forgotten that in 2010 David Cameron made the promise: "In five years' time we will have balanced the books". But the reality is the pledge was just an admission that his economic strategy has failed on its own terms with the Government set to borrow £245billion more than they planned in 2010. So much for fixing the roof.

Perhaps most surprising of all was that the Tories have not been able to say how they would pay for what few pledges they made this week. In contrast to the costed promises outlined by Labour last week, when Cameron was asked during an interview on the BBC this week as to how he would fund his new commitments, his reply was to simply say that he was "quite convinced" the Government would find the money. Can you imagine a Labour spokesperson getting away with that?

As the conference season ends, the difference between Labour and the Tories couldn't be clearer. Labour is setting the agenda and dealing with the real issues facing Britain. Unlike Ed Miliband last week, David Cameron used his speech this year to reassure his party, not talk to the country. It was more like a rally of the 1922 Committee than an address to the nation.

The leader of the Conservative Party always has one advantage during the party conference season - they get to go last. Of all the leaders' speeches, Cameron may have had the last word, but he had almost nothing to say. It was just more of the same from Cameron - a land of opportunity for just a privileged few, not for the many.

Michael Dugher is Member of Parliament for Barnsley East, vice-chair of the Labour party and shadow minister without portfolio.

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