Well, that was one hell of a mid-term speech. What of it will we remember in six months’ time – or, for that matter, six weeks? Not much.
The Prime Minister was hampered by timing. Halfway through a parliament is not an easy time to deliver a rousing speech. It’s not long enough to look back over the whole sweep of a term in office; nor close enough to an impending election to rally troops by laying out policy positions. As such, it was exceptionally light on detail, full of familiar foes, and over-burdened by cliché and lazy thinking.
Two examples: first, after saying that Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms were as grand in scope as those of Beveridge – which is wrong, hubristic, and premature – Cameron identified the two primary evils of welfare as unfairness and injustice. But these two words are often used inter-changeably, including by philosophers, so when used in close succession really need a more obvious explanation of difference.
Second, in a tired attack on Labour’s borrow-and-spend culture, Cameron said that “We’re here because they [Labour] spent too much and borrowed too much. How can the answer be more spending and more borrowing.” I’m afraid this really is reductive, sloppy economics of the worst kind. As Martin Wolf has pointed out, in an important sense this claim is the reverse of the truth. What matters is who adds the debt and in what form.
The only slightly memorable line today was “I’m not here to defend privilege; I’m here to spread it.” And the section recalling his father’s stoicism through disability was moving.
But overall it was a boring speech, effectively delivered, less significant than Ed Miliband’s speech, and as I wrote in the Evening Standard earlier this week, almost certainly utterly irrelevant to the very great majority of the British public.
I’d give it 5/10.