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Direct from Cameron

Betsan Powys | 00:19 UK time, Tuesday, 17 February 2009

First the Cameron Direct statistics: 160 people in the audience in Barry Comprehensive School Hall; 20 questions answered in bang on an hour by one man who when he took off his jacket knew immediately who he reminded us of: "Oh it's not a Tony Blair moment or anything".

Number of seconds before the first Gavin and Stacey joke? I made it seven. "Thanks to the Headteacher and his wife for the cakes. If I'd eaten them all I'd be the size of Smithy by now". Few in the audience got it. Why? Because despite living in and around Barry, they didn't look as though Nessa was their type. They didn't look, nor sound hostile either.

That had been the plan. Mr Cameron's office had asked, said a party member and candidate who there to see how it's done, for a hostile audience, "the more hostile the better." That's been the idea of Cameron Direct nights - confront, hear it as it is, charm the socks off them. The audience members I spoke to beforehand were not Conservative voters. They were, as advertised, anything but. There were Plaid protesters outside, one or two who seemed to have come into the hall. There were school pupils who had friends who were Communists, others who were committed Labour supporters.

But hostile? Not so as you'd notice.

The Cameron Direct backdrop, on its first visit to Wales, has what look like three targets positioned just behind the leader's head but there were few bullets coming his way. The first question started with the words "To what extent do you think the government has failed both young and old people ..." which gave a brisk, relaxed Mr Cameron his first chance to talk about a different "Conservative means, Conservative approach to delivery".

He cantered through prescription charges, bonuses for bankers, British jobs for British workers, woodland habitats, quantitative easing ("not quite yet in the league of pushing money down Barry High Street in a wheelbarrow Zimbabwe style ... to buy Welshcakes"), banks who won't lend, why he voted in favour of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, the threatened closure of a local care home by the council, irresponsible parents, MPs' "lush" final salary pensions, the barrage ("our excellent candidate Alun Cairns and I don't quite see eye to eye on this one ...") bias at the BBC ("a tad left of centre but I don't complain too much about that") and devolution.

Mr Cameron had told me earlier that he'd read Lord Roberts of Conwy's report on further devolution for the Assembly like this: it had showed that the case for further devolution has not been proven and that what concerns people are lost jobs, lack of credit, "not endless tinkering over processes". He had a word for it: processology. I'd asked when that interim report would become a final report? It is, apparently "a living document" that will evolve as circumstances change.

But in Barry Mr Cameron went a decisive step further.

The context first: he was asked whether, for Wales, a full parliament with tax raising powers was the answer to the its current economic difficulties. No, said Mr Cameron. Creating a parliament doesn't, after all, create money. Barry Comp's headmaster might be adept at spinning money out of cobwebs but create a parliament, he said and what you get are more politicans, higher salaries, bigger pensions.

But he didn't stop there. I wrote it down. "No, I don't support the idea of a full parliament with much more power".

I turned to a spin doctor to check I'd heard right. Doesn't 'much more power' sound like primary law making powers? "Context" he mouthed. "Context". Granted, Mr Cameron had been asked whether a parliament with tax raising powers would solve our economic woes and didn't think so but neither, according to the words he spoke, does he support the idea of a full parliament with much more power. Which begs an obvious question: what does Nick Bourne, who does, make of that?

But journalists weren't allowed to ask questions. It was back to whether England needs a Commissioner for older people, Mr Cameron's cooking skills as trumpeted by Vogue magazine, appreticeships, student fees and it was goodbye.

Warm applause, an audience most of whom will say good things about him to their friends - "I know he just wants our votes but he seems more genuine that most of them" - job done.

Tidy. There, I can do it too.


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