By Matthew Barrett
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David Cameron put in a good show on the Andrew Marr programme this morning, in his big pre-conference interview. The main takeaways from the Prime Minister's interview were:
- a determination to fight for strivers, including an unapologetic defence of cutting the top rate of tax
- a "new settlement" for the European Union – not necessarily a referendum, but less EU immigration, and new budgetary processes
- no turning back on the deficit reduction plan
The most striking of these points was the European one. Mr Cameron backed Theresa May's suggestion of a new look at migration within the European Union amongst European Union citizens – which could be a game-changer, ending uncontrolled immigration. Mr Cameron also suggested that instead of having one budget for the entire European Union, there should be one for the Eurozone members, and one for non-Eurozone members. This would create, by definition, a two-tier European Union. He struggled a little on the question of a European referendum, but he wants to keep his options open, and has committed only to reviewing options for reform within Europe.
Mr Cameron also spoke fiercely and passionately about strivers and growing the economy. He heralded figures like one million new private sector jobs, a record number of new businesses started in Britain in the last year, and reducing the deficit by a quarter in two years, as evidence of the Government taking steps to balance the economy and reduce the country's deficit headache. He said he would not turn back from the Government's plan of deficit reduction, and also warned of the need to reduce the welfare bill by £16bn for 2015-16. Mr Cameron said:
"Now, I want us to be the party that actually levels with the British public and talks very plainly and straightly about what needs to be done, because the fact is we have to find those spending reductions, and if we want to avoid cuts in things like hospitals and school and the services that we all rely on, we have to look at things like the welfare budget, where we’re still spending, as a country, £80bn on working-age welfare, That’s not the pensions, not the disability benefits, but working age welfare."
Mr Cameron's message for strivers was simple: the Conservatives will not punish aspiration. Continuing George Osborne's announcement that he would not raise a mansion tax or introduce wealth taxes, Mr Cameron said
"Let me tell you one thing it won’t be. I don't actually believe we should be a country where if you work hard, you save, you buy yourself a house, you try and pay down the mortgage, you save and invest into that house – I don't want to be a country that comes after you every year with a massive great tax, and so that is not going to happen, but we have put extra taxes where people buy expensive properties. Now I’m not going to announce the measures here on your programme – I know that’s sad for you – but we will always be fair and seen to be fair."
Mr Cameron also defended cutting the "completely uncompetitive" 50p rate of tax, and pointed out that taxes for the wealthy are now higher than under Labour:
"That top rate of tax had to go, because it was higher than France, higher than Germany, higher than Italy. You cannot run an enterprise economy, an open-market economy where you want investment, you want jobs, you want growth, if you’ve got a top rate of tax that is completely uncompetitive – and by the way, raising virtually no money. So yes, we cut that top rate of tax, but we a government that believes in being fair, and we will always make sure that the broadest backs bear the harder weight."
It's also worth noting Cameron rejected a strict regime of press if recommended by Lord Leveson. Cameron said:
"We must wait for what Lord Justice Leveson says; I don’t want to try and prejudge it…We don't want heavy-handed state intervention; we’ve got to have a free press. They’ve got to be free to uncover wrongdoing, to follow the evidence, to do the job in our democracy they need to do."