'I am different to Margaret Thatcher'
Moments after the prime minister made a passionate defence of the Big Society I interviewed him in the Cabinet Room where Margaret Thatcher used to sit.
He told me:
"I am different to Margaret Thatcher, different to past Conservative governments, this whole idea of emphasising the importance of building the Big Society and all the things that we can do, Government is not just making cuts, sitting back and saying 'let's hope society steps forward."
He defied critics of his big idea saying that he didn't care whether people thought he was being naïve. The government was bound to be blamed for cuts, he said, but that didn't mean that councils did not have a choice over whether to cut in ways that did less harm to charities and voluntary organisations.
Finally, he seemed to accept that the government had been making mistakes as it was going so fast.
Below is a transcript of some of the most interesting moments.
On the Big Society:
David Cameron: "Now, people that say 'oh, that's naive' I don't care, that's what I think, that's what I think government ought to be doing, and it's what my government is going to do."
On whether cuts are undermining the Big Society:
Nick Robinson: "Isn't it grown up to say, look, the cuts I am imposing, that my government has chosen to put on councils, will mean cuts to services even when councils deal with top people's pay and merge the back room. The councils you've listed are all cutting front-line services. They have to do it."
DC: "Inevitably there will be some cuts that are difficult and painful, that is clearly the case. But councils do have a choice to try and do these things in the right way. I think of my own small council in my own constituency. They are struggling hard so they don't reduce the budget of the citizens advice bureau. I happen to think that's a good decision. They are sharing their chief executive with the neighbouring council, so all councils, I know we have given them a difficult job to do but I do believe they can do it in a way that is friendly to building a bigger society."
NR: "Are you saying don't blame me? Blame the council?"
DC: "No, clearly, everyone in the end will blame the government for having to make cuts. I hope they will fairly say that we are doing this not because we want to but because we have to, because of the inheritance we've had from the last Labour government that racked up these debts, racked up this deficit that means that frankly whoever was sitting here as prime minister would have to make difficult decisions about spending and tax."
NR: "The suspicion that people have I think is what you're effectively doing is getting the councils to make the cuts and saying don't blame me, I'm only the prime minister"...
DC: "No, I'm not saying that, as you've just seen, I'm absolutely not saying that. You know, the responsibility for the mess we're in, I blame the last government, the banks that got us into this mess and all the rest of it. But I absolutely accept that I am having to take very difficult decisions as prime minster and I know that will mean that, you know, this is not going to be an easy year, and it will not be an easy year for me. I absolutely accept that. I see it as my duty. I'm trying to do the right thing for the country."
On whether he is like Margaret Thatcher:
NR: "Can I put to you what I think underlies some people's concern about Big Society, the cuts and the banks... You presented yourself as a different sort of Conservative, and I think there are some people who believe that who now look at you and say Margaret Thatcher all over again?"
DC: "Well I just, I am, I mean, I am different to Margaret Thatcher, different to past Conservative governments. This whole idea of emphasising the importance of building the Big Society and all the things that we can do, government is not just making cuts, sitting back and saying 'let's hope society steps forward'. You know, we are establishing the Big Society bank that's lending, (interruption), look these are really important points... (interruption)...
NR: "But they think, I suspect, many people, they think, I think, he cares, he seems to say the right things, but we see some dreadful things happening as a result of cuts, and in the end he says you've no alternative?"
DC: "Well I don't, I do think that what we are doing economically is the right answer, because as I say we are borrowing this year, you know, more than countries that are in real difficulties. The plan we inherited of halving the deficit over four years, would have got us in four years' time to where Portugal was last year. That's no plan at all. I do believe that you have a duty in this job to do the right thing, even if that is painful and difficult, and getting the debts and the deficit under control has to be done But just because that is your duty doesn't mean you shouldn't have, as I do, a burning mission to try and build a stronger bigger society where people look out for each other more, where people make a bigger contribution and work together to make this country a better place."