Page last updated at 16:32 GMT, Sunday, 28 September 2008 17:32 UK

Cameron gets serious for conference

David Cameron

By Carole Walker
Political correspondent, BBC News

"Plan for Change" is the slogan of the Conservative Party conference, under way in Birmingham.

The big challenge for the Tories is to set out what the plan is - how they would get us through the current global economic turmoil.

In one of the heaving bars around the conference centre last night, I talked to one long-standing Tory adviser who said: "What is the Conservatives' economic strategy? I certainly don't know."

And if he doesn't know, there's little chance the public has the faintest idea.

But on Sunday we started to see at least some concrete proposals to deal with the credit crunch in the short and medium term.

On BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show, David Cameron was asked whether he'd support nationalisation of the Bradford and Bingley Bank.

Bank of England
The Bank of England could have new powers under Tory rule

"There should be an alternative" he said. The Bank of England should have the power to take it over, the savings of depositors would be protected and the taxpayer would not have to bear the entire risk.

He was pressed - but if the bank is nationalised, will the Conservatives support the move? His response was to insist there should be an alternative to nationalisation or bust.

The reconstruction plan includes more ideas focused on reducing both private and government debt. The Conservatives would scrap Gordon Brown's fiscal rules and create a new Office for Budget Responsibility to assess the public finances.

Balancing books

The Bank of England would have new powers to warn when lending is getting out of hand. The Financial Services Authority would give greater protection to savers when banks do get into trouble.

David Cameron's old idea of sharing the proceeds of growth sounds pretty hollow when the economy appears to be heading towards recession.

He said growth in government spending should be slower than growth in the economy.

Yet it is still far from clear how or why the Tories would stick to Labour's spending commitments for the next two years, particularly as they've accused Gordon Brown of a "scorched earth" policy of borrowing his way out of the current financial crisis, leaving a legacy of red ink for any incoming Tory government.

All the recent polls show a significant number of voters have little faith in any of our political leaders to sort out the financial mess

The new policy is to reduce debt as a proportion of the nation's wealth with a long-term commitment to balancing the books.

The latest polls show Labour has clawed back part of the Conservatives' lead, that voters might be buying the prime minister's pitch as a serious man for serious times.

But all the recent polls show a significant number of voters have little faith in any of our political leaders to sort out the financial mess.

There is certainly much to play for this week. Everyone here remembers the extraordinary turnaround in the party's fortunes after last year's conference season.

There is no prospect of the sort of crowd-pleasing tax cutting announcements that made such an impact then.

Attacks on Labour will be muted - strategists say voters don't want political mud-slinging at the moment.

The party has even cancelled a presentation celebrating its electoral successes as it seeks to present a suitably serious face to voters worried about making ends meet.

Just two years ago, in his first conference speech, the optimistic David Cameron told us: "Let sunshine win the day." It's a fair bet we won't be hearing that this week.

He knows he has to forego the traditional conference cheers to set out a clear economic strategy that makes sense to an anxious public.


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