The Tories leave Birmingham in far better heart than when they arrived. They feel that they have succeeded in setting the terms of debate this week. On tax and spending, their baseline is now what Labour will be judged against.
The Tories’ tax plans are very powerful politics. Few will want to argue against taxing those on the minimum wage out of income tax altogether. Equally, it’ll be hard for Labour and the Lib Dems to slam raising the threshold for the 40p rate to £50,000 as a tax cut for the rich. People on £50,000 might be well-off but they are not rich.
Labour are already attacking this as an unfunded tax cut. But I suspect that Osborne’s warning that he’ll freeze working age benefits has given the Tories enough fiscal credibility to ride out these attacks.
But if the message on tax was classically Tory, Cameron returned to the most important element of modernisation in this speech: his commitment to the NHS. His anger as he raged against Labour claiming that he, a man whose son died in an NHS hospital, wanted to dismantle the NHS seemed entirely genuine: if he delivered that answer in a TV debate, it is hard to see how Ed Miliband would respond. While his promise to continue increasing spending on it in real terms every year has strengthened the Tories defences against Labour on this subject.
Cameron’s speech today had to offer clarity on what the Tories are offering and to heighten the choice between Cameron and Miliband, Tory and Labour. On these measures, the speech succeeded.