THE uncertainty caused by the Sunday Times-Observer divide in interviews on the economy by David Cameron and Nick Clegg was easily tidied up yesterday when Mr Cameron took the lead on the economy and Mr Clegg turned to constitutional reform in the House of Commons.

Perhaps the contrasting interviews in the Sunday papers were intended to be two sides of the same coin -- the need for tough measures on one side and the need to avoid unnecessary hardship for vulnerable people on the other. Mr Cameron's impressive speech yesterday brought both sides together with a warning that the cuts his government will announce are of a kind that will “affect our economy, our society, indeed out whole way of life”.

The effects, he said, will “stay with us for years, perhaps decades to come”. He did not say in so many words that these effects will lead to a reduction in the general standard of life for most people in Britain but there was little doubt that this is what he meant. Whether this aim is compatible with another objective -- to carry out the deficit reduction “in a way that strengthens and unites the country” may be open to doubt. It seems a tall order because however good his intentions Mr Cameron must know that those who will suffer most in such situations are invariable those least able to help themselves.