Make or break for Cameron

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EVEN though it was a Keighley business which formed the backdrop to David Cameron’s speech on the economy, the Prime Minister’s audience was very much a national one ahead of this month’s Budget which is likely to “make or break” the coalition’s economic credentials.

In contrast to his speech in Shipley in May 2010, the first that he had delivered outside London since becoming PM and an intervention which included a strong commitment to devolve economic powers to the North, there was just one cursory reference to Yorkshire at the outset of the Tory leader’s remarks.

The reason is this: a repeated criticism of Mr Cameron has been his failure to articulate the coalition’s policies coherently and the reasons why the financial crisis continues to blight so many lives around the country.

He certainly took the opportunity to highlight the dreadful legacy that he was bequeathed by the last Labour government. His warning that there is no “magic money tree” can be regarded as a foretaste of the Budget and the PM’s determination to stick to his austerity agenda, in spite of Business Secretary Vince Cable’s call to halt – albeit temporarily – the deficit reduction strategy so more money can be diverted to infrastructure investment.

Most people will agree with Mr Cameron’s assertion that the country has spent beyond its means for too long and that people need to roll up their sleeves. The political difficulty is when taxpayers realise that this means them working even harder to make ends meet while key services are scaled back in their local community.

With the public finances even more constrained because of the Chancellor’s failure to deliver growth, the coalition’s scope for economic manoeuvre is even more limited, hence the absence of new policies as Mr Cameron repeatedly insisted that “there is no alternative” – echoes of Margaret Thatcher when she said “the lady is not for turning” in 1981.

That maybe so, but Mr Cameron can deliver one significant change. Too much money is still being squandered on the bureaucracy of the government rather than on policies that will generate revenue for the Treasury. If this mindset changes, Britain’s prospects will improve overnight.