Cameron made a brave effort with Humphries on the 8.10 slot on R4's Today this morning. He's a skilled performer, but unfortunately only as good as his material. And this morning it was dire. He argued the technical point on the unemployment benefit vs. NI holiday proposals that his shadow chancellor has come up with - yes, £8k saving per person over a full year against a smaller fall in lost NI. Two years ago during normal pre-budget statement positioning it would have been fine. Even now, as a position on moving a billion or two around in the budget, it was OK.
However, it wasn't on a scale relevant to the challenges facing the economy. He's still a politician fiddling with a few millions here and a few millions there when economists are talking about economic measures worth 1% or 2% of GDP to counter the recession. It came across as banal and lightweight, as demonstrating he doesn't really appreciate the scale of the economic crisis. It was as if he'd signalled a major fiscal initiative then announced an increase in the stamp duty band from £250k to £255k.
Brown and Clegg's pronouncements will leave Cameron nowhere. This was a dreadful mistake. He desperately needs to be bolder. He could have said 'like Keynes, when the facts change I change my mind - and the facts now bear no relation to those even a few weeks ago'. He could have talked about GDP in big numbers, could have demonstrated his command of the economic situation, but instead got tied up in a techie fiscal budget footnote that should have been dealt with by a junior Treasury shadow.
It's not good enough, Dave.