We billed it as the most important speech of the week.
The tone was right. The delivery excellent. The council tax freeze very welcome. The message on the financial markets was appropriate. The speech had some good jokes.
But George Osborne disappointed on the big issue of public spending restraint.
This is what we wrote last week:
"The public sector is bloated and there must be discipline. A recruitment freeze in the public sector should be the starting point. We also need changes to procurement practices, IT projects and the budgets for quangoes. That’s the message we hope to hear from Mr Osborne in Birmingham."
We didn’t hear that message.
The Mayor of London showed the way yesterday. He has afforded a council tax freeze because he followed another profligate Labour politician, Ken Livingstone, as Cameron-Osborne will follow Brown. By eliminating waste and useless programmes, Boris will be able to offer relief to London’s hard-pressed taxpayers. Boris follows other successful Conservative councils; notably Hammersmith & Fulham, that have found ways of cutting taxes, cutting spending and repaying debt. Conservative councils are achieving these gains because they are following on from Labour councils that lacked basic management expertise. The next Conservative government will follow a Labour government that is at least as incompetent.
It’s good news that we won’t be renewing the pledge to match Labour’s spending splurge but we need to be steeling ourselves and the public at large for something close to a freeze in all central government expenditure. The Tory Treasury team says it hasn’t been done before. True, but neither has a government spent as wrecklessly as the Brown-Blair administration. Oliver Letwin called government "fat" at the last election. It’s now seriously obese.
The Conservatives’ new Plan for the Economy contains many good ideas for long-term economic growth but it is not creating the necessary room for short term reductions in borrowing (that could help reduce interest rates) or tax reductions (that could help businesses and stem corporate flight).
Perhaps the party won’t act until it’s in Government? Fair enough but act it must. The British economy needs a very different direction.