I've spent the last four days in Birmingham at the Conservative Party Conference.
The banking crisis coupled with a desire on everyone's part not to look in any way complacent about our prospects at the next Election meant that it was a much more sober affair (in both senses of the word) than usual.
I spoke in the crime debate about the recent increase in knife crime in central Croydon and you can read The Advertiser's coverage of what I had to say here but I wanted to post about David Cameron's speech this afternoon.
It was a real tour de force that set out what a Conservative Government would do as Prime Minister to rebuild our economy, renew our NHS and repair our broken society. No doubt the coverage of the speech on tonight's news will be Nick Robinson telling you what he thought of it rather than letting you know what David actually said so I thought I would post a few extracts that I thought were particularly noteworthy because they answered questions that people frequently ask me on the doorstep(you can read the full speech here).
In a very personal section, he addressed head on the question that people who are thinking of switching from Labour most often ask - "Will things be any different under you?". He acknowledged that there is no way of convincing people who are understandably cynical about politicians making promises that we will actually do the things we are saying we are going to do:
“The best you can do is tell people who you are and the way you work - how you make decisions and then live with them. I’m a forty-one year old father of three who thinks that family is the most important thing there is…I am deeply patriotic about this country and believe we have both a remarkable history and an incredible future. I believe in the Union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and I will never do anything to put it at risk. I have a simple view that public service is a good way to channel your energy and try to make a difference. I am not an ideologue. I know that my party can get things wrong and that other parties sometimes get things right. I hold to some simple principles - that strong defence, the rule of law and sound money are the foundations of good government. But I am also a child of my time. I want a clean environment as well as a safe one. I believe that quality of life matters as much as quantity of money...I believe in building a strong team and really trusting them. Their success is to be celebrated, not seen as some kind of threat. Thinking before deciding is good. Not deciding because you don’t like the consequences of a decision is bad. Trust your principles, your judgment and your colleagues. Go with your conviction, not calculation. The popular thing may look good for a while. The right thing will be right all the time”.
I feel particularly strongly about the last point. One of the reasons that politicians are held in such low regard is that they have spent too much time chasing popularity listening to focus groups of floating voters and focusing on the next day's headlines rather than doing what's right for the long term. David recognises that if he becomes Prime Minister he will need to do some unpopular things:
"If we win we will inherit a huge deficit and an economy in a mess. We will need to do difficult and unpopular things for the long term good of the country. I know that. I’m ready for that”.
He's also realistic about what he can achieve:
"In these difficult times we promise no new dawns, no overnight transformations. I’m a man with a plan, not a miracle cure".
He was particularly passionate about one of my top concerns, standards in education:
“The election of a Conservative government will bring - and I mean this almost literally - a declaration of war against those parts of the educational establishment who still cling to the cruelty of the 'all must win prizes' philosophy and the dangerous practice of dumbing down…there’s the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. These are the people who are officially supposed to maintain standards in our school system. You pay their wages. And do you know what you get in return? They let a child get marks for writing 'F*** off' as an answer in an exam. As Prime Minister I’d have my own two words for people like that, and yes, one of them does begin with an ‘F’. You’re fired”.
He very effectively rebutted the key message of Gordon Brown's speech last week that this is “no time for a novice”:
“Experience is the excuse of the incumbent over the ages. Experience is what they always say when they try to stop change…just think about it: if we listened to this argument about experience, we’d never change a government, ever. We’d have Gordon Brown as Prime Minister forever...the risk is not in making a change. The risk is sticking with what you’ve got and expecting a different result”.
And finally he addressed the whole issue of MPs' pay and allowances:
“No-one will ever take lectures from politicians about responsibility unless we put our own house in order…People are sick of it…MPs voting on their pay, open-ended final salary pension schemes, the John Lewis list - they have all got to go”.
I have known David for a number of years. I have seen him grow in this job. You can't ultimately tell what kind of Prime Minister someone will make until they are in the job but he showed this week that he's ready.