Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

CAMERON U-TURN ON CREDIT CARDS PLEA; PM REWRITES CONFERENCE SPEECH TO SCRAP CALL TO PAY OFF DEBTS; BRITONS URGED TO 'SHOW THE WORLD SOME FIGHT' IN CRISIS; Cameron: Let's Work Together and We Can Lead Britain to Better Days

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

CAMERON U-TURN ON CREDIT CARDS PLEA; PM REWRITES CONFERENCE SPEECH TO SCRAP CALL TO PAY OFF DEBTS; BRITONS URGED TO 'SHOW THE WORLD SOME FIGHT' IN CRISIS; Cameron: Let's Work Together and We Can Lead Britain to Better Days

Article excerpt

Byline: Joe Murphy Political Editor

DAVID CAMERON urged Britons to "show the world some fight" in the face of recession today -- but his plea was overshadowed by an apparent gaffe.

He had to change his keynote address after economists said that if people took his advice to pay off credit card bills it would trigger a slump.

He told the Conservatives in Manchester: "Let's turn this time of challenge into a time of opportunity. Not sitting around watching this happen and wondering why but standing up, making things happen and asking, 'why not?'

"We have the people, we have the ideas, and now we have a government that's freeing those people, backing those ideas. So let's see an optimistic future. Let's show the world some fight. Work together, and together lead Britain to better days."

Hours before the Prime Minister stood up, gloomy growth figures showed the economy is limping even more slowly than thought.

In an ill-timed blow, the Office for National Statistics said growth was a meagre 0.1 per cent between April and June -- half of the 0.2 per cent figure previously released.

It left Mr Cameron having to turn his big speech into an impassioned plea to the country to rally together and show the fighting spirit that saw Britain emerge from the Eighties recession and the end of empire with head held high. "You know we've been told we were finished before," he said.

"They said when we lost an empire that we could not find a role -- but we found a role, took on Communism and helped bring down the Berlin Wall.

"They called our economy the Sick Man of Europe, but we came back and turned this country into a beacon of enterprise.

"No, Britain never had the biggest population, the largest land mass, the richest resources, but we had the spirit. Remember, it's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog."

However there was embarrassment over the change to the text after a draft section on credit cards was given to newspapers and TV last night. The draft of the big speech stated: "The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That means households -- all of us -- paying off the credit card and store card bills. It means banks getting their books in order."

The new version for the televised gathering in Manchester merely said: "That's why households are paying down their credit card and store card bills."

The change followed headlines claiming the Prime Minister was urging people to get rid of debt -- an idea that horrified retailers and other firms who depend on people spending on their credit cards. The British Retail Consortium said that urging people to "retrench" was "at odds with promoting growth".

"What of course we actually need to revive the economy is for customers to both have the money available and have the confidence to spend it," said a spokesman. "Of course people shouldn't run up unsustainable debt but there is nothing wrong with borrowing as long as you can service that debt. A call for people to entrench even further is at odds with promoting the growth that we need to get."

Nick Pearce, head of the Left-leaning IPPR think tank, said consumers had debts of [pounds sterling]57 billion on credit cards and [pounds sterling]152billion in other loans and advances. Paying off such sums over a year would depress spending by six per cent, sending the economy into a four per cent decline.

"If the consumer took the Prime Minister seriously, we'd be in real trouble," he said.

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said trying to repay money too quickly could be damaging: "It is vital that people are given help to repay their debts in a sustainable way.

"Where people are encouraged to repay money too quickly it can make the problem more serious, forcing people to take out more and more credit just to make the repayments and ultimately landing them in more debt. …

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