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Ten Things We Learned From David Cameron's Speech

07/10/2015 17:51 BST | Updated 07/10/2016 10:12 BST

1) IT'S DAVE'S DECADE

The over-arching theme was 'the turnaround decade' of the 2010s and it provided the spine for a classic Cameron speech: at turns funny, ruthless, elegiac, patriotic and ultimately soothing for both his party and the country, an aural balm applied to justify the rough, tough days of austerity.

But it wasn't so much the 2010s as 2005/6 that he conjured up, recalling just why he'd become Tory leader in the first place, the ChangeToWin candidate who wanted to hug hoodies and huskies with equal vim. As Tory leader, we've already had a decade of Dave and the picture is mixed.

Having indulged a brief bit of election night porn, he was right to get straight down to defining what that victory was about - ramming home that old adage that history is written by the winners.

But as well as kicking his opponents while they were down, he time and again made clear his real passion in politics was not the dessicated, calculating machinery of sorting the finances, but tackling Britain's social ills.

He even listed the 2005 Cameroonian agenda to put "equality for gay people, tackling climate change and helping the world's poorest at the centre of the Conservative Party's mission". Many will think his environmental record since has been a joke, but he's delivered on gay marriage and overseas aid, so his party may argue that two out of three ain't bad.

2) HE THINKS BRITAIN IS STILL ILL

In pledging to help prisoners and children in care, Cameron returned to his roots as a compassionate Conservative (heck he even talked about a 'rehabilitation revolution' all those years ago). He came a cropper with negative talk of a 'Broken Society' a few years back, not least at the hands of a ridiculing Boris Johnson. Some will also wonder how easily the compassion fell by the wayside during the cuts years. Possibly the most baffling line in the entire speech was the non-sequiteurish "a teenager sitting their GCSEs is more likely to own a smartphone than have a dad living with them". Yeah, me neither.

Yet in political terms the return to 2005 vintage Cameron makes sense if he's to define his own legacy while occupying Labour territory. Quoting his favourite movie, Lawrence of Arabia, he said "nothing is written" and that Britain's deep problems "are not inevitable".

Funnily enough, that had echoes of Jeremy Corbyn's own victory speech line that "poverty is not inevitable". And Cameron's clearest message today was his pitch to all the Corbyn-spooked moderate Labour types who care about the poor as much as their own bank balance: voting Labour is 'not inevitable'.

3) LEADERSHIP, HIP HOORAY

Cameron's victory conference, just like his second term, was in danger of being overshadowed by the two big strategic calls/errors (delete as appropriate) that he's made in recent years: an EU referendum and pre-announcing he's not leading his party into the 2020 election.

Thanks to his bigger picture vision, he managed to shift the focus onto his preferred agenda of fixing the UK's social fabric as much as its economic structure. But given the beauty parade (copyright I. Duncan Smith) of the conference, he knew that any Cabinet shout-outs he gave were always going to be pored over.

George Osborne got the required praise but it was Boris who got the biggest backing (and longest ovation) from the PM, a bold move almost like a father trying to ensure his two sons were being treated equally over any legacy he wanted to pass on. For Boris, it rounded off an impressive week that had started with the Spectator's rather odd cover story about its former editor being all washed up.

Nicky Morgan, who has irritated No10 over this past week, got not a single namecheck. In fact the PM stole her best policy this week, on housing benefit, and bigged up Michael Gove instead as the 'great reformer' of Britain's schools.

Theresa May got only a passing mention, lumped in with a rat-a-tat, blink-and-you-miss-it tribute to his "a team who keep us safe at home and abroad... Justine Greening, Michael Fallon, Philip Hammond and Theresa May". It looked every inch as though the Home Secretary had been cut loose, particularly as Cameron could easily have praised her during the extremism bit of his speech. Then again, maybe the madrassah crackdown was more Govian swamp-draining to contrast with May's diffidence over the Trojan horse plot. For his part, Gove said after the speech that 'ambition is not a crime'. Yet if you're anyone but Boris or George, it certainly looks that way.

4) DELIVERY DAVE

He's no great orator, but Cameron is Cicero compared to almost all of the Cabinet. Thanks to the light and shade in his well-crafted speech, he got the right applause lines and several ovations he intended. (In fact one of the reasons Boris's speech worked so well this week was, I'm told, because he has finally learned how to pause for applause). Dave knows how to not just write a good line, but how to deliver it.

The gag about The Joy of Tax book was well worked, not least because he ad-libbed to say he took it home for Samantha (his aides later said this was 'poetic licence', so thankfully we can apply the mind bleach to the idea of them flicking through Richard Murphy's tome under the No.10 duvet.

There were undeniably some clunky lines. "Our way, the Conservative way, the only way to greater days" was a particular tumbleweed moment, as was "the party for working people - today, tomorrow, always" - not to mention that old chestnut 'let the message go out' and his fist-pumping 'that's what fires me up'.

But they were far outweighed by some nice prose, as well as the 'Greater Britain' catchphrase and the 'Great British Take-Off' pun that generated headlines faster than a Mary Berry drop scone. (As for GBBO, Cameron let slip privately this week he's a huge fan of Nadiya, he could have underscored his pro-Muslim credentials with a "and good luck to Nadiya tonight!" but that may have been a chillax too far for this crowd).

One thing that Cameron does (like no other politician I know) is to tear up at his own speeches. His Scottish Widows plea to Scots to stay in the UK last year was a classic filling up moment and he's done it in previous conference speeches. Today was no different, his eyes welling as he said of 9/11 "a tragedy is the mums and dads who never came home from work that day". It was a ruthless attempt to imply Corbyn didn't believe those deaths were not tragic. And it worked.

5) HIS WANTED A PEPSI TERROR MOMENT

Cameron is just two days younger than me and he will remember well the 1970s classic ad for 'lip smacking, thirst quenching, ace tasting etc etc Pepsi'. Today he launched what sounded like a caffeine-inspired attack on Jeremy Corbyn's "security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating ideology". It was written with newspaper splashes in mind, and encapsulated everything that many Labour MPs fear will be unleashed on them between now and 2020.

Cameron didn't even need to mention the Corbyn refusal to press the nuclear button, and it was smarter to focus instead on the Labour leader's infamous quote that it was a 'tragedy' that Osama Bin Laden was killed rather than tried in a court of law. Twitter was alight with claims that Corbyn had been 'misquoted' but of course he wasn't. He was trying to make a wider point about the rule of law being more civilised than state-sponsored assassination, but many of the public would feel the use of the word 'tragedy' was both naïve and crass.

6) MY TANKS, YOUR LAWN, NOW.

Two of the cleverest speeches this week were from George Osborne and Boris Johnson, precisely because of the way they sought to annexe territory held by New Labour (though these days everyone calls it 'moderate Labour'). Cameron was just as shrewd in targeting those voters who may now feel their party has abandoned them as it veers off to become a people's movement under Jeremy Corbyn.

Ending the speech with the letter from 82-year-old former Labour voter Bernard Harris (from the Labour heartland of Leicester) was a neat move. "In my life I have foolishly voted Labour, believing it served the working class. How wrong I was. Labour is against all I aspire to. I am 100 per cent for a United Kingdom, a sound economy, free enterprise, a trading Europe and a decent standard of living. Only a Conservative Government will achieve this."

Those words are a dagger to the heart of what we used to call Blairites (they did have hearts, it's just they let it look like only Corbyn had one). Harris has been out backing Cameron before, and some will point to his 'trading Europe' as proof that Cameron is at heart an Inner, not an Outer. But the central power of the device remained.

For me, one of the cleverest rhetorical tricks came with his 'who gets hurt?' riff that ended with "Labour: you're not for working people, but hurting people". Tories with long political memories like Cameron, who was a special adviser at Norman Lamont's side during the traumatising ERM days, will remember the Conservatives' infamous 'If it's not hurting, it's not working' line on the economy - and the way New Labour ruthlessly exploited that 'uncaring' mantra for years.

7) MISSING IN ACTION

It's an old saw, but what's not in a speech is often as interesting as what's in it. And there were quite a few glaring absences.

There was no defence of tax credits cuts, and his line that 'work has got to pay' may jar with those strivers above the minimum wage who are losing out next year.

In a BBC TV interview Cameron said yesterday that immigration was 'my Number One concern'. But today there was no detailed mention of immigration, though lots about refugees and a positive message (see below). There was a one-word reference at the beginning of the speech that the public 'want' a Government delivering 'controlled immigration'. UKIP would point out this Government hasn't done that.

What was missing most was detail on policy. The passage about 'I want you to be the generation that ends discrimination' was not a prelude to new legislation or policy to combat racism or sexism. No.10 told us he was just 'showing leadership' and this was not a reference to firms using blind job applications or CVs, for example.

Prison sell offs may not help prison reform, switching from rented homes to homes for sale may fail to help generation rent, even the Madrassah registration sounded a bit back of the envelope.

8) EUROPE: IN WITH THE 'IN' CROWD?

In keeping with this switchback to 2005/6, he didn't 'bang on about Europe'. But his activists and MPs may have wanted more than the thin gruel he served up as a summary of his renegotiation to date. Worse still, from a Eurosceptic point of view, despite the obligatory 'bossy' Brussels lines he was more positive about the EU than he's been for a while. "We also know what's right about it - it's the biggest single market in the world".

His other line "it's not just what we get out of, it's what we get Europe into" (Iran disarmament, EU-US trade deal) again sounded more In than Out. The only firm pledge on the renegotiation was his "Britain is not interested in 'ever closer union' - and I will put that right." That's something many expect him to bank, but it's ultimately only a form of words. Will the punters really be convinced he's won major concessions? When will we get the actual referendum? On those, we are still very much in the dark.

9) TOO MANY TWEETS

It was way back in 2009 that the PM said he disliked the new fangled social media creature, with his infamous 'too many tweets make a twat'. Despite having taken the plunge and garnered 1.2m followers, he kinda feels he's been proved right ever since. It's not just the political Twitter suicides he's referring to, but a wider disconnect between a perceived Metropolitan elite and 'real voters'.

"Britain and Twitter are not the same thing" declared the PM today, adding "the British people are decent, sensible, reasonable..." (subtle huh?). Michael Gove this week laboured the point, attacking Russell Brand, Charlotte Church and Milifandom as proof of the gossamer-thin bubble of unreality of the Twitterati. Expect much, much more of this in coming months as Corbyn seeks to use social media and online news sites to bypass the mainstream media.

The @jeremycorbyn4pm Twitter feed tried to mock Cameron with 'Breaking News, @david_Cameron to take Friends Reunited and MySpace to win social media, leaving the Twitters to us lot' . For some strange reason they bottled it and then deleted it.

10) HEY THERESA, SOME MIGRANTS ARE GOOD

Cameron very carefully heaped praise on new MPs like Nusrat Ghani, "whose parents, just a generation ago, were living in a small village in Kashmir... Seema Kennedy, who was five when she and her family were forced to flee revolutionary Iran... Different journeys, often difficult journeys, all leading here".

In case we you didn't get it, he added for good measure: "the Black British son of a single parent, Sam Gyimah... the daughter of Gujarati immigrants who arrived in our country from East Africa with nothing except the clothes they stood up in, Priti Patel.. Sajid Javid, whose father came here from Pakistan to drive the buses."

Yes, migration can be a very British success story.

This was all a far cry from Theresa May's hardline message yesterday. No.10 insist the PM agrees with much of what she said, but given that this debate is often about striking the right tone, it was obvious he wanted to accentuate the positive.

You can read David Cameron's speech in full as a blog here