David Cameron speech: Let’s show some fight

DAVID Wooding gives a quick instant analysis of David Cameron’s keynote speech at the Conservative party conference in Manchester.

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Cameron in debt speech U-turn

By DAVID WOODING in Manchester

DAVID Cameron has been forced to tear up his big  speech to the Tory conference amid a backlash over a section urging people to pay off their credit card bills.

The Prime Minister had planned to tell supporters that the only way to end the financial crisis was to get rid of family debts.

But his remarks – briefed out by Number 10 ahead of this afternoon’s address – sparked claims he is out of touch.

Hard-hit families complained that they don’t have the spare cash to pay off the outstanding balances – and using plastic was the only way to buy essentials during hard times.

Experts also warned the economy would shrink even further if people stopped buying by credit card.

This morning Mr Cameron hastily re-wrote the section of the speech referring to the bills – and Number 10 staff hastily put out a “clarification” of the pre-briefed remarks.

Mr Cameron had planned to say: “The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That means households – all of us – paying off the credit card and store card bills.”

In his speech to the Manchester rally at 2.30 this afternoon he will now say: “The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That’s why households are paying down their credit card and store card bills.”

The PM will say he understands voters are living through an “anxious time” of rising bills and job losses and will promise to deliver real leadership for troubled times.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC it was common sense for people to pay off debts when they could and that the Government would lead the way.

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Theresa’s got her claws out for boss cat Ken

By DAVID WOODING in Manchester

KITTEN-heeled Theresa May got in a right cat flap with Cabinet colleague Ken Clarke today – over the Human Rights Act.

The Home Secretary had her claws out after he poured scorn on her claim that an illegal immigrant dodged a deportation order to look after his pet pussy.

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Home Secretary Theresa May chats to David Wooding in her office.

Mrs May had seized on the story to highlight her opposition to the controversial laws in a speech to the Tory conference in Manchester.

She won a standing ovation when she told of “the illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I’m not making this up – he had a pet cat.”

But moments later, Cabinet top cat Mr Clarke stamped all over her claim with his size 11 Hush Puppies by claiming she had over-hyped the story.

The Justice Secretary declared: “I will have a small bet with her that nobody has ever been refused deportation on the grounds of a cat.

“I’ve never had a conversation on the subject with Theresa, so I’d have to find out about these strange cases she is throwing out. I cannot believe anybody has ever had deportation refused on the basis of owning a cat.”

He later quipped: “I heard Theresa refer to it and I sat there with a Victor Meldrew reaction. I thought… I can’t believe it.”

Mrs May was privately furious at the cat-astrophic intervention by Mr Clarke, who’s had a ban run of his own over his “soft” stance on prison sentences.

It was the fist Cabinet bust-up since the rally opened on Sunday and tonight both sides were hurling details of the case at each other to defend their corner.

A Home Office source said the case highlighted how illegal immigrants were taking the Act to extremes by exploiting the section which gives them a right to a family life.

Claws out: Ken Clarke

Mr Clarke, who is due to receive a recort on the European Convention on Human Rights,  said the Home Secretary had failed to consult him before making her remarks.

He said: “When I found out what these examples are that have upset her, I will probably find that she agrees with me. It is these daft misinterpretations of the Act which are giving the whole thing a bad reputation, when we should be a force in favour of human rights and individual liberty in the modern world, not in any way resiling from it.”

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Tories wake up and smell the coffee

By DAVID WOODING in Manchester

TWO former Tory girls are helping to kick start the party conference every day – with a mega caffeine boost.

Katie Perrior and Jo Tanner have set up a VIP marquee where MPs, journalists and other visitors can get down to business over free-flowing Starbucks coffee.

Jo (left) and Katie in the London Lounge.

Guests of the ex-Central Office Press officers can enjoy a complimentary cuppa and a pastry while they charge their mobile phones, connect to their internet wi-fi or use one of their private meeting areas.

It’s like an airport departure lounge with ministers,  broadcasters and public relations chiefs checking in throughout the day.

Jo and Katie’s company InHouse PR teamed up with sponsors Starbucks and the Total Politics magazine to launch the “London Lounge” inside the conference arena in Manchester.

It has proved such a big hit that plans are already afoot to extend it next year. Katie said: “We’ve been attending conferences for years and the biggest complaint is that there’s so few places to hold meetings.

“Most hotel meeting rooms have been booked up months in advance and there’s nowhere to have a private chat at short notice. We’ve tried to recreate the experience you have when you travel first class – comfort, free refreshments and plenty of room to get on with your work.

“We issued 750 passes to a wide range of people and are delighted with the take up.”

Ed: I don’t give a damn if people think I’m weird

By DAVID WOODING

ED Miliband insisted he’s a “pretty normal guy” today as he scoffed as suggestions he is “weird”.

The Labour leader said he “doesn’t give a damn” about what people think of him – it’s what he does as a politician that counts.

Mr Miliband spent the morning doing a round of TV and radio studios after criticism of his speech to the Labour conference in Liverpool.

On Radio 4’s Today programme, he was asked bluntly if he feared his chances of winning power were doomed because many voters think he is “weird”.

He hit back: “Other people make their own judgments. I think I’m a pretty normal guy. It’s in the eye of the beholder.

“I don’t give a damn about that. The times are too serious and the issues are too grave for us to say it is not about substance.

“It is about substance. It is absolutely about substance. The problems our country faces are so serious that substance matters, and I have got an old-fashioned view – substance wins out.”

In his speech yesterday, Mr Miliband pledged to break up the system “take what you can” system that has dominated British politics for a generation.

He stood by the message of his address, declaring: “The words I said yesterday were the words I came to say.”

He told Eamonn Holmes on Sky News he wanted to set out the “big argument” about how Britain must change.

He also claimed to be on the side of ordinary families facing a squeeze in living standards.

Asked if he wanted to move Britain into a post-Thatcher-Blair era, he answered:  “Definitely. Definitely. Tony Blair was elected leader 17 years ago. He was dealing with different challenges. It is a new era, it has got to be a new era.

“The Prime Minister is the last gasp of an old era, because he doesn’t want to face up to these big changes.”

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Why Ed must make the speech of his life

By DAVID WOODING in Liverpool

ED Miliband makes the most important speech of his career tomorrow – and must convince Labour doubters he is the man to lead their party back into power.

Talking to delegates in the conference hotel bars, I’ve reached the conclusion that he’s still got some way to go to win over even his own supporters.

Many still wonder whether they made the wrong choice when they picked him ahead of hot favourite and big brother David just a year ago.

Their mood echoes opinion polls which show Ed (pictured) still lagging behind Prime Minister David Cameron in personal ratings.

Even when asked publicly whether they picked the right Miliband, grass roots members are reluctant to say “yes”.

This was illustrated to dramatic effect during a Radio 5 Live show live from the bar of Jury’s Hotel in Liverpool.on Sunday night.

I was a guest on the lively show Pienaar’s Politics when, for a final flourish, presenter John Pienaar grabbed a microphone, waded into a group of delegates and asked them for their views on Ed.

Of the four people he asked, not one was willing to give their own leader a full endorsement.

It’s gob-smacking that support is so tepid among a group of paid-up party activists. John tried several times to coax a word or two of approval from the bar but all he got was a mood of uncertainty.

If that’s the view on his home turf, what do the “silent majority” of ordinary voters he needs to win over think?

So when he stands up to make his second speech as leader tomorrow, Mr Miliband must outline his vision of Britain under a future Labour government. He needs to think not only of those doubters in the conference hall, but the millions outside.

He must do some straight talking on the economic crisis – and give a clear idea on what he will do to boost growth, create jobs and improve law and order.

With the coalition suffering problems of its own, now is the time for Ed to step up to the plate. And show us what he’s made of.

Hear it for yourself: Listen to John Pienaar trying to get find an Ed Miliband supporter at the Labour conference: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/pienaar

Labour’s “cheap” plan to boost membership

By DAVID WOODING

LABOUR party chiefs will today invite members of the armed forces to join the party – for just a pound.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy will announce a new cut-price level of membership for brave service men and women who fight for their country.

It is part of a drive to boost grass-roots membership which slumped along with the party’s popularity over the dying months of the last government.

Normal full-membership costs £41 a year but under the new plan, serving soldiers, sailors and airmen will be able to sign up for the same annual fee as a “Young Labour” members. Mr Murphy (pictured) will announced the move at the Labour party conference in Liverpool later today.

The bargain basement fee was dreamed up during the review of the party’s future being overseen by Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain. Its main aim to to reach out to ordinary voters by becoming more relevant. Insiders believe the new £1 membership will help establish Labour as the party of the armed forces.

An insider said: “We welcome service men and women into our ranks and hope this will provide added incentive during these tough times for more of them to come on board.”

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