Leading article: Mr Cameron's opportunity to prove he can be trusted with the economy

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The Independent Online

The Conservative leadership will be in confident mood as they assemble for their annual conference this weekend.

Ed Miliband has not had much of a lift from last week's Labour gathering last week, and the prospect of the Tories being defeated in a general election might seem comfortably distant. Even better, where there is grumbling on the right of the party – over tax, immigration and relations with Europe, particularly in the light of the Greek crisis – David Cameron can use the Liberal Democrats as cover to ward off his critics. That Nick Clegg and Tim Farron will be the lightning rods for right-wing frustration, rather than David Cameron and George Osborne, gives them an unusual degree of breathing space.

Meanwhile, the advisers in the back room have planned ahead well, producing a sprinkling of announcements that do not cost too much and will please delegates packing their bags for the journey to Manchester. Thanks to goodies thrown to them by Phil Hammond, the Transport Secretary, and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles this week, Tory supporters can look forward to having their bins emptied every week again, and driving legally at 80mph along Britain's motorways. Both will be popular.

When it comes to the real substance, we can be sure of hearing much on the theme that "you can't trust Labour with the economy" as ministers tell us that the cuts the Government is planning are a necessary remedy for the debts run up by their predecessor.

It is a rather disingenuous line, given that right until the banking crisis of 2008, the Conservatives were promising to match the Labour government's plans for growth, and that a vast proportion of the subsequent debt came from bailing out the banks. But it is standard practice in democratic politics to blame the previous government for everything that is going wrong, while claiming credit for all that is good.

While we cannot realistically expect either the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats to resist the temptation to blame all their troubles on Labour, the question that matters most to the public is not how we arrived at the present mess but whether the Government has the right strategy to get us out of it. So far, the answer uncertain.

Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne were brought up to admire Margaret Thatcher and her steely determination to stick to the script that trying to dodge a recession by stimulating growth risked undermining the soundness of the currency. But times are different now. That was when recession coincided with double-figure inflation. Now there is no immediate danger of runaway inflation. What bedevils us instead is rising unemployment, falling demand, an unwillingness on the part of private firms to invest, and the looming threat of a collapse in house prices.

It is understandable that politicians so steeped in Thatcherite mythology want to demonstrate that they too can be unyielding in times of economic crisis. But if the Conservatives are to prove they are any worthier of trust on the economy than Labour, both Mr Osborne and Mr Cameron must do more next week than simply repeat the mantra that cuts are necessary. Unless they start setting out measures to stimulate growth, there is no reason to believe them.