By Ray Fleming

AFTER making allowance for the fact that he was speaking at a political party conference, David Cameron's attack at the weekend on the civil service in Whitehall and town halls must still be judged as way over the top. Earlier William Hague had made some unsustainable claims about Britain's place in the world (with the Libyan fiasco in mind it was a difficult moment to do so) but he employed an acceptable party-political approach. By contrast, Mr Cameron chose his political platform to attack “bureaucrats in government departments” and “town hall officials” -- people who cannot defend themselves -- using the kind of bullying language that he deplores in others: “And if I have to pull these people into my office to argue this out myself and get them off the backs of business, then, believe me, I will do it.”

Not for the first time, Mr Cameron called in aid one of his predecessors and reminded his audience that in 1999 Tony Blair had complained about “the scars on my back” from dealing with the public sector. In fact, at the time Mr Blair's remarks were widely interpreted to have been about the opposition to his National Health Service reforms from the medical profession, the British Medical Association especially. The contents and tone of Mr Cameron's speech suggested that he is already looking for others to blame if the promised economic recovery on which all his plans depend does not arrive.