In its editorial today, The Mail condemns Cameron for getting the jitters about his austere message of late and turning sunnier once more. The Mail you see rather likes austerity and being miserable. If there were Cromwellian puritans around today, the sort of people who suspect that someone somewhere is enjoying themselves and instinctively disapprove, then they would almost certainly be Daily Mail readers.
The Mail, characteristically, disapproves of Cameron's PR background. Most of us may find it a little irritating but accept it as part of modern politics. And the Mail's yearning for austerity is also wrong. Austerity in itself is not something to yearn for. Yes we need to cut back on public spending, we need to be realistic about what the nation can and cannot afford. But is it wrong for Cameron also to talk optimistically about the future? That austerity is not a means in itself. Parsimony now will mean a better tomorrow surely?
Cameron is quite right to be changing his emphasis in the coming months. This is not to say he is backtracking on being tough on public spending. But he is saying that we can spend money more wisely than has been the case under Brown's scattergun approach. The Labour approach has been to throw money at everything as a panacea for the nation's ills. Even if we could afford it, it has been demonstrated that money will not cure the problems with the NHS and our schools. In that respect Labour has done us a favour. Their philosophy has failed, even during the times of plenty. Now it is for Cameron to make a virtue of the necessity of wiser spending in the same way that straitened times often create leaner and more efficient businesses. What is needed is not a famine or feast as Labour argues, but for the public sector to go on a diet so that we can trim all of the fat after the years of excess. That is the healthier option.
Cameron should be arguing that we need to slim down the state urgently, to make the economy fitter and leaner so that growth will return. That can be aided by tax cuts. Labour's tax and spend approach just sucks money out of the economy and ultimately impoverishes us all. Yet apparently Labour have failed to learn this basic lesson of the last 50 years. The Daily Mail advocates the opposite extreme. We need smart spending not lavish spending or wartime austerity to make us feel pure again.
Let's hope that David Cameron ignores the Daily Mail as most right thinking people do instinctively. The nation is in a mess and we need some judicious cuts and wiser spending. But austerity for austerity's sake is not the answer either, even if some people perversely rather like the idea for reasons peculiar to them.