Lee is dismissive. At Northern Ireland Centre-Right, Seymour Major is still in the throes of ecstasy. My take on Cameron’s conference speech is somewhere down the middle.
Certainly I didn’t feel that this address featured the rhetorical pyrotechnics which the Tory leader has occasionally produced. It felt a little laboured, it didn’t depart substantially from the script, and given that it was delivered by the first Conservative prime minister since May 1997, it wasn’t even received that rapturously by the Tory faithful.
In today’s Belfast Telegraph, which is not yet online, I consider Cameron’s references to Northern Ireland. The headline ’Fine words, true. But do you really get us, David?’ is not really an accurate reflection of the article's content.
As a commentator, rather than a politician, I’m not restrained from saying that the Conservatives don’t need to ’get us’ and if they do finally 'get us' it will be to our detriment. The demand that they do is based on a ’little Ulster’, ’we’re the centre of the world’, ’we’re different and everyone should dance attendance’ mentality which disfigures this province.
Cameron speaks to Northern Ireland on the same terms as everyone else in the United Kingdom and long may he continue to do so. As a unionist I ask for nothing else.
When I observe that, “ the deficit is quite properly an overriding concern for David Cameron, but he mustn’t let cuts obscure some of the more positive aspects of his government’s work“, and I argue that our heavy dependence on public services makes “his message of socially responsible cuts .. a difficult pitch“ it isn‘t special pleading.
These are the same arguments which take place, to different extents, the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. There is real apprehension that spending cuts will cause pain and unemployment, but Cameron’s speech was about emphasising the positive aspects of his vision.
The ’Big Society’ has been heavily lampooned, but the Prime Minister is sticking to his communitarian guns. And he is right to do so. The problem is with the unmemorable phrase rather than the concept itself. And if it received with scepticism in the Tory party, that is because the social nihilism of Thatcher is still so pervasive.
The deficit remains key, and fiscal conservatism is important, but the Tories can’t allow it to annihilate the better instincts which Cameron has allowed to flourish within his party. That holds just as good for Northern Ireland, as it does elsewhere.
His speech suggests that our Prime Minister understands that imperative.