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Tuesday 8th May 2012 | 16:51
Relaunches are always fraught with difficulty and today's Cleggeron event in Essex was no exception.
The photo-op in the tractor factory was meant to be a clever symbol of a relentless focus on growth and manufacturing. And in a key battleground where Labour made some inroads in last week's local elections, the message was supposed to be 'we're listening'.
The 'We-Never-Promised-You-a-Rose-Garden' summit was all set - and perfect for the early evening news.
That was the plan. Unfortunately, it suffered from a couple of flaws.
First, you just can't get away from the fact that the PM and DPM just look awful together. These days, each is devalued by rather than reinforced by their lookalike.
Both wearing identikit suits, and only differentiated by the blue and yellow of their ties, it wasn't a good look. (It's no wonder the PM took his jacket off halfway through to distinguish himself from his partner). As one factory worker said "You two need to get your act together..." Cameron on his own looks much more at home on his PM Direct events.
Second, words are just as important as pictures. And the PM had some rather unfortunate words as he dropped his guard on the deficit. In answer to one question, he said:
"What you call austerity, I might call efficiency..."
Now, of course, there is a perfectly credible case to make that all this talk of austerity undermines consumer confidence and that Government efficiency is very different from plunging people into poverty. As some economists point out, public spending is still growing.
But in PR terms, that soundbite walked straight into Labour's 'out of touch' trap. With many voters suffering a recession, the suggestion that Government-imposed belt-tightening is merely part of a wider 'efficiency' drive is what Sir Humphrey would call 'very brave'.
The PM's McKinsey-style phrase also undermines his very own claim yesterday that this is 'not a Government of accountants'. So, that's what Homer Simpson would call a double-'D'oh!'
Cameron normally comes down like a ton of bricks on ministers who suggest the Coalition isn't sharing the public's pain. He remembers all too well being at Norman Lamont's side during the 'Je ne regrette rien' period. Still, it's a bit difficult for a PM to sack himself for an ill-judged remark.
There is, perhaps, a simple reason for David Cameron's unguarded moment. He probably read Luke Johnson in the FT at the weekend and it went to his head. Johnson wrote this piece of advice to the PM: "he should be thinking day and night of 'efficiency' – or what the public sector calls austerity".
It's one thing for a columnist to say that. It's another entirely for a Tory leader to give Labour the perfect quote for its 2015 election posters: "What you call austerity, I call efficiency", alongside images of the jobless queues.
If Labour were being playful, they could even picture Cam and Clegg as a couple of swells, with the caption: "You say austerity, I say efficiency....let's call the whole thing Toff!.." [Get's coat...]
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