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A Pessimist's Guide to David Cameron's Conference Speech

It held little in the way of surprises, but seemed to have no basis whatsoever in reality.
Simon Childs
London, GB
October 7, 2015, 4:00pm

David Cameron walks into the conference centre with his wife Samantha (Photo author's own)

More from the Conservative Party conference:

Are the Tories Really Looking out for Britain's Workers?

I Spoke to Some Screaming Tory-Haters Outside the Tory Conference

Photos of Protesters Pelting Tories with Eggs at the Party Conference

Quarter of an hour before David Cameron's big conference speech kicked off, press photographers and a smattering of fans gathered outside the main conference centre to watch him swagger up the steps and into the building with SamCam on his arm.


Before he walked on stage, a montage of Tory triumphalism flashed back to their victorious election campaign. Footage of Cameron saying statesman-like things were juxtaposed with Ed Miliband sounding like a goof. Miliband's policy pledge tombstone got a big laugh, before some election-night footage of their crushed enemies: Lib Dem Vince Cable looking sad as he lost his seat, Nigel Farage looking fed up as he failed to gain one, and the tragic figure of a vanquished Ed Balls.

Entering stage right, the BBC3-style trance faded into the Killers' "All These Things That I've Done" – which seems to be becoming Cameron's anthem – to a standing ovation, which the Prime Minister sort of feigned surprise at.

The speech ticked all the Conservative boxes. First, there was some more election gloating before he asked everyone in the hall to be "incredibly proud of our journey – the journey of the modern, compassionate, One Nation Conservative Party". It was meant as a sobering reminder that this is a relatively non-evil version of the Tories.

That was followed up by some Corbyn dissing – the Labour leader coming in for some stick for calling the death of Osama bin Laden a "tragedy", with Cameron neglecting to mention that what Corbyn really said was he thought it was a tragedy that he was assassinated without being brought to trial.

Then there was some conscience massaging about how Britain is totally helping Syrian refugees while insisting that we can't let too many in or we'll be "overwhelmed". So, that pathetic number of refugees we're going to allow to trickle in over the next five years doesn't look like budging any time soon.


The section on defence played to the war-mongering prejudices of the audience, pledging "a new class of Hunter Killer submarines, new Joint Strike Fighter Jets, improved Apache helicopters; a new fleet of drones, and because our independent [sic.] nuclear deterrent is our ultimate insurance policy – this government will order four new trident submarines". After four days hanging around the conference, it was strangely comforting to be reminded that all humanity could be wiped out at the touch of a red button.

After some tough talk on the EU and trying to steal Labour's territory as the "party for workers", there was the announcement that on housing, the Conservatives will transform us "from Generation Rent to Generation Buy" by building some "affordable" homes worth £250,000 (£450,000 in London) which for the average Briton are not actually affordable.

A quid pro quo for this is that developers will no longer have to build "affordable" housing for rent. So, that's from Generation Rent to Generation Bye-Bye Any Chance of Owning a Half-Decent Home if You're Poor (Team Corbyn, you are welcome to have that one for free). Looking on the bright side, those "affordable" rented homes were never that affordable anyway and developers often weaseled out of their obligation to build them, so at least things are a bit more honest now.

Cameron went on to declare at "all-out assault on poverty", which I guess is a neat rhetorical flourish to sidestep the shadow hanging over the conference – the cuts to tax credits that've been described as an assault on the working poor. This is a benefit cut that even the Sun is campaigning against. Making millions of badly paid workers thousands of pounds worse off is a novel way to start an all-out assault on poverty. He hyped the introduction of the new "National Living Wage", which is less than what is traditionally called a living wage – i.e. one that earns you enough not to live in poverty. "The best route out of poverty is work," he said, but that's going to ring hollow for a lot of people who'll working in poverty over the next few years.

Next up was extremism and segregation. Cameron said there is to be "no more passive tolerance in Britain", stopping short of announcing an era of active intolerance. It's hard to disagree with prosecuting people who arrange forced marriages or parents who inflict FGM on their kids, as Cameron suggested, but there were overtones of the sort of "us vs. them" rhetoric that has marked Cameron's attitude towards integration. "If you are teaching intolerance, we will shut you down," he said, untroubled by the philosophical head-scratcher that entails. There was no acknowledgement that the government's "Prevent" anti-terrorism strategy has pathologised Muslims to the point where a 14-year-old Muslim schoolboy was asked if he was "affiliated with Isis" because he uttered the French word for "eco-terrorism" in a lesson. Instead, said Cameron, we're in for "less Britain-bashing, more national pride – our way, the Conservative way, the only way to greater days". So you've got to celebrate what Cameron called "what's right about Britain – Freedom. Democracy. Equality." Anyone who doesn't wave the flag hard enough could find out what that freedom really means.

The conclusion sounded very hopeful and nice, but it kind of underscored the sense of unreality looming over the whole thing. Cameron hoped for "a Greater Britain – made of greater expectations, where renters become homeowners, employees become employers…" It's the kind of fantasy business people tell school children in motivational speeches. In Cameron's Britain, everyone could be a wealthy employer owning a comfortable home. For those who can't do that, there are promises of a "Great British take-off", help to "realise your dreams" and "A Greater Britain – made of greater hope".

As the speech ended, Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" blared out of the speakers. For many, that's going to be sage advice as the present reality becomes ever more bleak.