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Relaxed, witty, confident - if Cameron fears Miliband he's not showing it
FACING me across the famous Cabinet table, David Cameron was relaxed, witty, confident - and clearly relishing the challenges ahead.
Over 30 minutes, the prime minister expanded on the state of the economy, energy prices, broadband, badger-culling, Hillsborough, high-speed rail and even his own waistline.
If he was knocked off course by Ed Miliband's strong showing at Labour's conference - an unlikely prospect, admittedly - he certainly wasn't showing it.
I was among a small group of journalists invited to quiz Mr Cameron ahead of Sunday's Tory conference, with gas and electricity bills the hot topic on most lips.
But, first, I wanted to ask about a crucial issue for the North-East - the growing worries of key investors that Britain is drifting towards a disastrous exit from the European Union.
In recent months, Nissan (privately, to Nick Clegg) and Hitachi (publicly) have suggested they will slam the brakes on investment if an exodus becomes likely.
The threat could not be more serious, with Nissan responsible for 30 per cent of the region's exports and Hitachi's County Durham train-assembly factory dubbed the 'new Nissan'.
So is Mr Cameron playing with fire, after giving into his party's Europhobes by pledging an 'in-out' referendum on EU membership, by 2017?
In words that may not please Conservatives itching for withdrawal, the prime minister insists he is striving to keep Britain in the EU - not open the door to an exit.
He replied: "British business supports Britain's place in the single European market. I totally get that and I want to deliver that.
"Of course I understand people's concerns, but the way to end uncertainty about Britain's position in Europe is to secure a negotiation in our interests, then have a referendum - and secure our future in a reformed European Union."
Mr Cameron insisted there was no sign of investors turning away, adding: "I was very struck, on my last visit to Nissan, that they are choosing not only the Leaf to be built in Britain, but also future models as well.
"So, I'm confident that we can secure the future that these companies want. They have been a big part of Britain's export success and we need to make sure of that."
Turning to the economy, Labour is pinning its hopes on making 2015 a "living standards election" - when people conclude they are worse after five years of the Coalition.
So what will Mr Cameron's pitch be to Northern voters, if - as seems very possible - their living standards have fallen since 2010?
Significantly, the prime minister does not hit back by pledging people will be better off after five years of his partnership with Nick Clegg.
Instead, he says: "My very clear message to people is that you are better off than you would have been if we had continued with Labour's disastrous approach to debt and deficit "Yes, things are difficult, because we are recovering from a debt crisis. What Labour did means our country is poorer - and we're still recovering from that.
"But I hope to demonstrate that, as we create more jobs, as we keep people's taxes down, as we freeze the council tax, this is a Government that's on the side of hard-working people."
So no sign of the "complacency" that Labour accuses Mr Cameron of, but little sign either of a "feelgood factor" - for a general election 19 months away.
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