U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to rewrite a section of his party-conference speech in which he urged consumers to cut back on spending. It’s not the first time his rhetoric has got ahead of his intent.
Cameron’s aides went around the press room at the Conservative’s annual convention in Manchester, northwest England today holding a handwritten note setting out a new phrasing of one sentence of the address, so that it no longer told voters to “deal with your debts” by “paying off the credit-card and store-card bills.”
“This is part of a wider pattern,” Steven Fielding, director of the Centre For British Politics at Nottingham University, said in an interview. “The myth of Cameron is that he’s great at presentation, and he is, up to a point. But then he makes a fool of himself.”
At the 2009 party conference, again in Manchester, Cameron said the Bank of England’s quantitative-easing program to stimulate growth would have to stop “soon,” arguing that “printing money leads to inflation.” The premier later said this hadn’t been intended as an attack on the policy.
As Tory delegates arrived at the conference this morning, they were able to pick up free copies of the Daily Telegraph newspaper, with the front-page headline “Pay off your credit cards for the sake of the economy.”
“If the consumer took the prime minister seriously, we’d be in real trouble,” Nick Pearce, director of the Institute of Public Policy Research, wrote on the group’s website. “In one quarter, this would reduce consumer spending by 25 percent and GDP by 15 percent.”
“The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts,” the original text of the speech extracts released last night read. “That means households -- all of us -- paying off the credit-card and store-card bills. It means banks getting their books in order. And it means governments -- all over the world -- cutting spending and living within their means.”
Those words were revised this morning to: “That’s why households are paying down their credit-card and store-card bills.”
Cameron wasn’t the only Tory to get into trouble with his speech this week. Two days ago, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne accused British banks of running “Ponzi schemes” before 2008. Aides refused to explain the comment further.
Yesterday, Home Secretary Theresa May found Justice Secretary Ken Clarke offering a bet that she’d got her facts wrong when she told the conference an illegal immigrant had been allowed to stay in the U.K. “because -- and I am not making this up -- he had a pet cat.” The Judicial Office, which speaks for Britain’s judges, immediately issued a statement that the cat “had nothing to with the decision.”
In July 2010, Cameron sparked a diplomatic storm when he said during a visit to India that Pakistan, a key ally in the fight against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants, should not be allowed to “look both ways” on terrorism or “promote the export of terror whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world.”
The prime minister flew to Pakistan in April this year to “clear up the misunderstandings” and “mark a new chapter” in ties between the two countries.
The Tories aren’t the only party caught out by their rhetoric this conference season.
Last week, at the main opposition Labour get-together, party leader Ed Miliband singled out John Rose, former chief executive officer of Rolls Royce Holdings Plc, as “the true face of British business” in contrast to the “predators” and “asset strippers” in the financial-services industry.
Miliband failed to mention that, just a week before, Rose had joined Rothschild Group, which advises on mergers and acquisitions.