Cameron's speech will have pleased the Tories - but few others

The Prime Minister spoke as if he inhabited an alternate reality.

David Cameron's speech was the most defensive he has delivered since becoming Conservative leader. In an address devoid of policy announcements, he confronted head on the strongest arguments against his government. To the charge that its obsession with austerity had tipped Britain back into recession, he replied: "our deficit reduction plan is not an alternative to a growth plan: it’s the very foundation of our growth plan." To the charge that the Tories were, once again, the party of the rich, he insisted that the abolition of the 50p tax rate would help, not hurt, the poorest. "When people earn money, it’s their money.  Not the government’s money: their money," he declared with the conviction of a true Thatcherite.

The hall lapped it up, but Cameron's speech will have fallen flat in most of the country. The Prime Minister frequently spoke as if he inhabited an alternate reality in which the country wasn't in recession, a million young people weren't unemployed, and living standards weren't falling at the fastest rate since 1920s. Warning that it was "sink or swim" time for Britain, Cameron presented himself as a man confronting hard truths. But he avoided the truth that, without a change of course, the UK faces years of anaemic growth. We were reminded again that the deficit had been reduced by a quarter and that a million new private sector jobs had been created (although 196,000 of these were simply reclassified from the public sector). But the government's failure to deliver growth, indeed, its success in delivering recession, means that borrowing has increased by 22% this year, while, after falling in recent months, unemployment is forecast to rise in 2013.

Continuing his casual relationship with reality, the Prime Minister spoke as the leader of an imaginary Conservative government, not a coalition. The only mention the Liberal Democrats received was when he reminded the hall that they had promised to cut NHS spending at the last election. But his speech did little to advance the quest for a Tory majority. If he is to succeed where he failed in 2010, Cameron needs to persuade an increasingly sceptical electorate that he has a plan for growth and that he can govern for the many, not just the few. He did neither today. 

David Cameron delivers his speech at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham. Photograph: Getty Images/

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May could live to regret not putting Article 50 to a vote sooner

Today's Morning Call.

Theresa May will reveal her plan to Parliament, Downing Street has confirmed. They will seek to amend Labour's motion on Article 50 adding a note of support for the principle of triggering Article 50 by March 2017, in a bid to flush out the diehard Remainers.

Has the PM retreated under heavy fire or pulled off a clever gambit to take the wind out of Labour's sails while keeping her Brexit deal close to her chest? 

Well, as ever, you pays your money and you makes your choice. "May forced to reveal Brexit plan to head off Tory revolt" is the Guardian's splash. "PM caves in on plans for Brexit" is the i's take. "May goes into battle for Brexit" is the Telegraph's, while Ukip's Pravda aka the Express goes for "MPs to vote on EU exit today".

Who's right? Well, it's a bit of both. That the government has only conceded to reveal "a plan" might mean further banalities on a par with the PM's one-liner yesterday that she was seeking a "red white and blue Brexit" ie a special British deal. And they've been aided by a rare error by Labour's new star signing Keir Starmer. Hindsight is 20:20, but if he'd demanded a full-blown white paper the government would be in a trickier spot now. 

But make no mistake: the PM didn't want to be here. It's worth noting that if she had submitted Article 50 to a parliamentary vote at the start of the parliamentary year, when Labour's frontbench was still cobbled together from scotch-tape and Paul Flynn and the only opposition MP seemed to be Nicky Morgan, she'd have passed it by now - or, better still for the Tory party, she'd be in possession of a perfect excuse to reestablish the Conservative majority in the House of Lords. May's caution made her PM while her more reckless colleagues detonated - but she may have cause to regret her caution over the coming months and years.

PANNICK! AT THE SUPREME COURT

David Pannick, Gina Miller's barrister, has told the Supreme Court that it would be "quite extraordinary" if the government's case were upheld, as it would mean ministers could use prerogative powers to reduce a swathe of rights without parliamentary appeal. The case hinges on the question of whether or not triggering Article 50 represents a loss of rights, something only the legislature can do.  Jane Croft has the details in the FT 

SOMETHING OF A GAMBLE

Ministers are contemplating doing a deal with Nicola Sturgeon that would allow her to hold a second independence referendum, but only after Brexit is completed, Lindsay McIntosh reports in the Times. The right to hold a referendum is a reserved power. 

A BURKISH MOVE

Angela Merkel told a cheering crowd at the CDU conference that, where possible, the full-face veil should be banned in Germany. Although the remarks are being widely reported in the British press as a "U-Turn", Merkel has previously said the face veil is incompatible with integration and has called from them to be banned "where possible". In a boost for the Chancellor, Merkel was re-elected as party chairman with 89.5 per cent of the vote. Stefan Wagstyl has the story in the FT.

SOMEWHERE A CLOCK IS TICKING

Michael Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, has reminded the United Kingdom that they will have just 15 to 18 months to negotiate the terms of exit when Article 50 is triggered, as the remaining time will be needed for the deal to secure legislative appeal.

LEN'S LAST STAND?

Len McCluskey has quit as general secretary of Unite in order to run for a third term, triggering a power struggle with big consequences for the Labour party. Though he starts as the frontrunner, he is more vulnerable now than he was in 2013. I write on his chances and possible opposition here.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Emad asks if One Night Stand provides the most compelling account of sex and relationships in video games yet.

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Theresa May is becoming adept at avoiding defeats says George

Liv Constable-Maxwell on what the Supreme Court protesters want

Theresa May risks becoming an accidental Europe wrecker, says Rafael Behr

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Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.