Cameron: Mind your language

"The only way to deal with a debt crisis is to pay off your debts. That means households - all of us - paying off the credit card and store card bills."

Oh dear. That passage from David Cameron's conference speech has dominated the headlines in a way Downing Street did not anticipate. It was, we are now told, not meant to be an instruction but a description of what people are already doing.

You can understand the sensitivity. At a time of failing consumer confidence it would be a little odd for the prime minister to declare "Stop spending, Britain! Stay at home! Do not emerge until you have paid off what you owe!" it would not be just odd but, potentially, economically disastrous.

That is the danger of using household finances to illustrate how the country should handle its finances. As any economist will tell you the nation is not really like a household at all.

All this illustrates the dangers the prime minister faces as he speaks today. He will try and walk a tightrope between realism and optimism. He wants to counter the prevailing gloom - which got worse with last night's news from the eurozone - without appearing in denial about reality. The problem with tightropes - even rhetorical ones - is it's all too easy to fall off them.