The Sketch: The strange, zoo-like sounds of the Tory party in agreement

  • @SimonSketch

If they were professionals you'd wonder what this speech of Cameron's meant, what they were trying to do and where our attention was being directed and misdirected.

The more likely thing is that in an excess of the amateur spirit they put together a mixed tape of his earlier favourites with a number of amiable flourishes and hoped it would carry them through to the spending announcements in a fortnight's time.

So the only real surprise we heard was the description of Eric Pickles as "Public Chum Number One".

I'm not sure I could say those words, not out loud. Next year Cameron might be saying "Don't get me wrong", and "Not trying to be funny or anything".

Public chum number one. Amazing.

The audience at least came up with a couple of new noises. When Ed Miliband's face went up on the screen all swollen in its forward parts they made a zoo-like noise. It can't be reproduced in print; it was sort of animal and abdominal, that's the best I can do for you.

And then when Cameron socked benefit bunnies saying, "We will not let you live off the hard work of others" – that produced a very Tory reaction – a low, whispering growl of agreement none of us had heard before. It made me think I should get a second and third job, just to prove I'm on the right side.

Like all political activists they are more confident about what they don't like than what they do. I thought the left hated the right and the right was merely impatient with the left – now I'm not so sure.

Every time he attacked Labour he was most rewarded – especially in his "Modern Major General" recitation of "spinning, smearing, briefing, back-biting, half-truths, patronising, old-fashioned" etc, etc. That got good, angry applause.

There was one moment when they might have got a bit teary. The wealth creators who get up for work before dawn – not the tycoons but the window cleaners. But again, he only glanced at them, and hadn't picked the right occupation. It's the skilled working class he needs – master plumbers, mechanics, electricians.

He probably thinks that's too sectional; he still prefers pitching the Big Society. That's tough when we all refuse to understand what it is. He told us in perhaps a slightly too imperative way: "This is your country – it's time to step up and own it."

In fact, the heavy work of the speech was to create the context for the spending cuts. There was far too little of that. He barely mentioned child benefit. That was crying out for resolution, for a wither-wringing argument to use against the moaning, whining, whingeing, I-burst-into-tears middle classes who want their share of the tax take-back.

He approached the deficit with technical arguments – credit ratings, interest payments, inflation. That's why there was no alternative (redolent phrase). But of course there is an alternative, right or wrong, and he'll not win the argument unless he can talk about it in moral terms.

At least he didn't announce they were going to recognise remembering your partner's birthday in the tax system. The Washing Up Together Allowance was held back for another time (it may be sooner than later).