Interesting how the centre of political gravity is shifting at Westminster. Very few lobby journalists attended the Prime Minister’s joint statement with the Iraqi Prime Minister at Downing Street while plenty made the effort to grab a bacon butty at David Cameron’s 9.15am monthly press conference.
And there was a more intense focus than before on what Cameron’s plans in government actually are. He was asked specifically if he would cancel the £4billion contract for two Royal Navy super-carriers that are to be build on the Clyde and at Rosyth dockyard? The answer is that cancellation of the carrier contract cannot be ruled out.
"All the things in the defence programme, there is a very strong case for them," said Mr Cameron. "We need proper equipment, we need a well funded Navy and Army. But clearly when we are living beyond our means we need to review all commitments across the piece and ask what do we need to go ahead with. We’ll do it in a responsible way. We’ve said for some time."
Just to give this some context there is a bust-up going on behind the scenes between shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox and Shadow chancellor George Osborne. Fox has vowed to fight Osborne’s plans to cut £3billion more out of the Defence budget. All this will be covered over by a commitment to carry out a defence review on entering office.
What is up for consideration then Mr Cameron was asked? Means testing child benefit, for example, as David Davis suggested in an article for the FT?
"Clearly we are not going to balance the budget on the backs of poorest and the neediest or on the back of the NHS," said Mr Cameron in response. "Our argument is the longer Labour delays these decisions the worse they will be. Because they made such a mess the last time the IMF came in and cut everything. To avoid that happening again you’ve got to start cutting now in 2010 when the government is actually planning to increase spending by £30 billion. They’ve put everything off into the future and that is wrong."
I’d read that as everything being up for grabs except the commitment to match NHS budgets and maintain the overseas aid budget, which all parties pretty much agree on.
The two supercarriers be the biggest and most powerful surface warships ever constructed in the UK and they guarantee the future of the Roysth, Portsmouth, and Govan in Glasgow, creating 10,000 jobs at the peak of the programme in about 2011.
Once they enter service in 2014 and 2016 respectively they are expected to remain in the fleet for up to fifty years.
Ian Davidson, Glasgow South West MP has reacted immediately to the possibility that the Clyde-built carriers might be under threat. "Cameron and the Tories have got to come clean immediately about whether they’re planning to cancel the carriers. Thousands of Scottish jobs depend upon the carriers going ahead and the Tories need to make their intentions clear as soon as possible."