THIS was always going to be a difficult speech for David Cameron, given the high standards that he set himself in his first conference address six years ago as Conservative leader when he called for “sunshine to win for the day”.
How could the Prime Minister’s natural optimism reach out to the nation at a time when, in his words, the current economic predicament is as foreboding as the 2008 banking crisis that precipitated a devastating recession?
Unlike Ed Miliband, Mr Cameron sounded upbeat as he sought to evoke the spirit of Britain. His approach is the right one. Pessimism will not create the new jobs that Yorkshire desperately needs at this most critical juncture. Pragmatism is required to get the country back to work.
Yet Mr Cameron’s resolve needs to become infectious, spreading to every nook and cranny of the Whitehall machine.
The Tory leader received one of the biggest cheers when he called on those who oppose his streamlined planning reforms to take their argument to their local job centre.
The applause was matched by his promise to tear down the “apartheid” between private and state schools, and a recognition that “rigour” should underpin every aspect of education policy.
Likewise, Mr Cameron’s passion when he promised to spend up to £14,000 on individual people to help them train and get back to work as “a part of an economy where no-one gets left behind”.
Yet the underlying concern will be that there are simply insufficient jobs being created to help people – even those with Mr Cameron’s “can do” attitude – make ends meet each week.
And that, in many respects, remains the Prime Minister’s greatest challenge – his oratory, however inspiring, often masks a failure on his part to understand the scale of the difficulties now confronting individual families.
Take reports that Mr Cameron was going to implore the nation to pay off its credit card debts. This passage had to be hastily rewritten when it was pointed out that many households had already done so, and were still struggling to pay the bills.
And, while many will have been cheered by the Premier’s final flourish, and his assertion that “better days lie ahead”, this speech should not be judged by the length of the customary standing ovation – but by the country’s economic performance over the next year.
In short, David Cameron has to lead from the front, and work relentlessly on rebuilding the public finances, if he’s to get the economy moving and society working again. And then he might be able to claim, with justification, that sunshine has won the day.