Britain must be quick! David Cameron steps on the gas at CBI conference

David Cameron

David Cameron raced up to the platform. He was addressing the CBI annual conference, a thousand suet puddings in suits, all sitting in near silence in the Great Room of the Grosvenor hotel, London. Getting them excited is like taking a cattle prod to a convention of tree sloths.

I can't say he succeeded, but gosh, the prime minister was fast. And that was the theme of his speech. We in Britain needed to be quick, speedy, on our toes and off the mark. There was no time to be lost. Other nations were racing past us. "The world is breathing down our neck!" he shouted, as if we were Russian sledgers pelting across the tundra only yards ahead of the slavering wolves. "In this global race you have to be quick – or else you are dead!"

Like the wolves, we have to be famished. More than ever we needed a "buccaneering, deal-making, hungry spirit!" We were in a global race to succeed and success would go to the swiftest. The suet puddings, who looked roughly as peckish as a python that has just swallowed a goat, appeared to be still digesting breakfast and wondering if it was too early to think about lunch.

As well as a race, Cameron told us, we were in a war, a war as vital as the second world war, when Whitehall tore up the rules and got on with the job of defeating Hitler! We should shell our opponents, and carpet-bomb the other exporting nations! (Actually, he didn't say that last bit, but he almost did.)

How would we win this war? "We need to be tough. And radical. And fast." We needed to get a grip, urgently.

There was not an instant to be lost. Spend an extra week deciding whether to build a new motorway and pow! We would be overtaken by yet another nation which last year didn't have a KFC. Or roads.

So there were going to be no more long consultations, no more impact assessments, reviews, bothering about EU regulations, or "assessing sector feedback", whatever that might have been, but it doesn't matter now, because we are shredding it and burning the remains! Work was to start yesterday afternoon on the new London airport! (No, he didn't say that either. Funny that he didn't mention the most important delayed project business is demanding.)

Some of the puddings looked rather weary at the thought of all this speed. They had come to hear the prime minister, not Usain Bolt. And at times it was difficult to follow as, in his haste, Cameron swallowed half of his words. "Cu' the time!" "Spee' things up!" he barked. "We need to throw everything we've got at winning this globa' race!"

At one point he said that if Columbus had had an advisory committee, he would still be stuck in the dock, and the puddings, realising that a joke had been made, stirred themselves to a ripple of laughter. Frankly if this is British industry at its speediest, we have some way to go.

Simon Hoggart's new hardback book of sketches, House Of Fun – 20 Glorious Years Of Parliament, is on sale at the Guardian Bookshop, reduced from £14.99 to £9.99. Simon will sign personal dedications on gummed labels if you send an s.a.e. to him at the Guardian

Powered by article was written by Simon Hoggart, for The Guardian on Monday 19th November 2012 19.38 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010