To Liverpool for the CBI dinner as a guest of Andrew Budenburg of Barclays Bank. The main attraction was David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party. I spoke to a lot of people afterwards and asked them what they thought.
This, therefore covers this blog’s ten thoughts for Friday.
- Cameron was on the stage for an hour. He’s a very good performer, not quite in the Blair class. But he spoke, then took questions, and didn’t duck the difficult issues.
- He is right about the skill of charity workers, the voluntary sector and business to tackle social problems more effectively than the state. This could well be his big defining idea. “Gordon Brown’s answer to problems is a top down solution. My answer to problems is to ask what business, the voluntary sector can do." I'm sure Dougal Paver will have something to say about this later.
- He had good examples of business initiatives by big retailers on carbon neutral practice and good examples of how businesses like Tomorrow’s People can get people into work and help them stay in work.
- He is also determined to abolish regional assemblies (hooray!) and give more decision making and finance raising powers to local authorities which should be led by a powerful city mayor. This is what he calls “a transfer of trust”. He wants to encourage “a new generation of civic leader and city fathers”. My question: where are they coming from?
- He wants the Conservatives to be recognised as the party of business, but will not commit to tax cuts. In time, as the economy prospers, it is right that business should reap the rewards and not be taxed.
- Economic breakdown is not the problem that causes poverty and drug addiction and decay, but social breakdown. The broken society is the biggest challenge we face and that business can be the solution, it is not the problem.
- He made a strange policy pledge on the need to introduce incentives for marriage. I don’t quite know what to make of this one. Neither did anyone else I spoke to.
- Two different people him, and him, mentioned to me afterwards that Gordon Brown is messianic when you meet him and a more awesome and inspirational character. My thought is, you can’t convince everyone by meeting them one by one.
- A lot of people said he reminded them of Blair fifteen years ago. I know what they mean, the country is definitely ready for change. But if Gordon Brown positions himself as different from Blair and IS that change, then Cameron could be stuffed.
- Cameron has lots of intriguing ideas that sound good and make sense. Whether people trust the Conservatives is another thing entirely. Like Blair he is trapped in his own party. And like Blair it was his party’s unwillingness to go with him on the difficult decisions that held him back.