David Cameron reveals his inner Tory

David Cameron speaking at Conservative conference 2012 David Cameron says he's no "cartoon Conservative"

The general election may be three years away but David Cameron has begun his campaign. He used his conference speech to set out explicitly what he called the battle lines for the election and they run a little like this:

Labour, he claims, do not understand how serious the global economic situation is; the Conservatives do. They accept that the economy is worse than expected, and it will take longer to fix than planned. But progress is being made.

The government is trying to fix the economy not just by cutting the deficit, and eventually debt, but also by trying to get the economy into the right shape so it can compete internationally. That means simplifying planning laws so firms find it easier to build. That means creating more free schools and academies so that there is a better educated workforce. And that means reforming welfare so that more people are encouraged into work.

In other words, he presented an argument that tied together everything the government is doing, and the unifying theme was aspiration. He argued that by encouraging aspiration, the government could also encourage growth. And crucially he said that building what he called an "aspiration nation" was not just an economic mission, it was also a moral one. Reforming welfare, improving schools and creating jobs would help not just those who want to be better off, but it would also help others out of poverty.

And in so doing Mr Cameron revealed his inner Tory, perhaps for the first time in such clear, authentic terms Tory. For years many Conservatives have scratched their heads and wondered what makes the prime minister tick. Is he a metropolitan, liberal Conservative who hugs hoodies and huskies? Or is he a rural, right-wing Conservative with traditional views on Europe and law and order?

Today the prime minister's answer was that he may be an old Etonian from Berkshire with a stockbroker for a father, but he is not on the side of the better off, he is on the side of those who want to be better off. He is not a "cartoon Conservative" who does not care, but a compassionate Conservative who supports anyone who aspires to get on. In his most telling phrase, he said: "I am not here to defend privilege, I'm here to spread it."

Mr Cameron claimed that Labour, by contrast, did not get how serious the situation was. He talked of hard truths and painful decisions, a grave moment and an hour of reckoning, a serious risk that Britain might not remain a major industrial country. Labour, he said, was a party not of one nation, but of one notion, namely borrowing more to try to stimulate the economy, a notion that the prime minister claimed was a massive gamble that would lead to higher interest rates.

So, thus Mr Cameron's argument. A few thoughts in response:

1. It is extraordinary that seven years into the leadership of the Conservatives Mr Cameron is still having to define himself and tell his party what he is about. The world has certainly changed substantially since 2005 and he has had to change with it - no more sunshine winning the day and sharing the proceeds of growth - but it is still noteworthy that he felt the need to explain himself once again.

2. One answer to the point above is that he chose to define himself again because his opponents have spent so much time claiming he was an out of touch old Etonian who was favouring his rich friends with tax cuts. To that end, it was interesting that a substantial part of his speech was a rebuff to Labour's attacks last week.

3. A clear part of the Tories' strategy now will be not just to remind voters of the economic legacy they were left by Labour, but also to remind them of how serious the global situation is. Tory aides fear that many voters have forgotten just what is going on in Europe and elsewhere. They need to do this so that they can have the space to argue that a vote for Labour is more of a risky prospect. In other words, always keep a hold of nurse for fear of finding something worse.

4. This was a speech notable for its absences. Nothing on the coalition, nothing on police and crime; Europe, health and the environment barely touched on. Much of the redder meat - such as spending cuts and bashing burglars - had been left to other ministers earlier in the week. This cleared the way for Mr Cameron to focus on his positive, aspirational Toryism.

5. The bottom line is this. David Cameron today made a strong argument about how he thinks he can make the country more competitive. His conference slogan was "Britain can deliver". The question now is whether his government can deliver? The planning reforms will take some time to kick in, there are many schools that are not yet academies and the welfare reforms are very much a work in progress.

So Mr Cameron has an argument. The test is whether he can make it happen.

James Landale Article written by James Landale James Landale Deputy political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Tory conference week has traditionally been one where I reach for the sickbag.

    And this week has been particularly vomit-inducing.

    We are not all in this together - no-one is fooled by that cheap tawdry slogan Dave.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    @15. balzac

    You can fool some of the people... Alastair Darling's policies were working...


    It all depends on how you measure the success of his policies.

    If you mean getting growth then yes but he achieved that by borrowing more and cutting consumer taxes.

    If you mean reducing the deficit then no he actually increased it in the hope that the global economy would recover. It hasn;t.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    The only part of the story that doesn't fit in is his promotion of gay marriage and unfortunately that is what is going to cost him his majority in the next election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Wonder what sort of damage the Bullingdon Boys will be able to do to the country before they admit they don't know what they're doing?
    But I suppose if you're living an austerity-free lifestyle, what does it matter!

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    For the first time in a long while the Tories look like they actually have a coherent vision, and not a watered down version hamstrung by their coalition partners. The coalition has worked surprisingly well, far better than the Brown years. People complain about cuts, but what really governs countries is the markets, and the markets would react very badly to 'borrow and spend'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Frankly, I lost interest in anything Cameron had to say a long time ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I find it incredible that anyone other than the privileged elite could even consider voting for this entitled shower of toffs. The rely on the 'apirational but dim middle class' vote by spouting the same old Tory rhetoric year after year, when will the Mail and Express readers of this world realise they would never be let into the gilded world off Dave, Gideon and Boris.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    At least if Cameron starts to 'reveal his inner Tory' the country will get to see what a self serving pathetic excuse for a Prime minister he really is, we can only hope that someone in the lib dems re-grows a conscious so we can get rid of the coalition before they cause irrevocable damage to everything we love in Britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    After being slightly disappointed with Cameron in recent months my opinion of him has elevated following this speech and I hope he can win in 2015. The alternative outcome sends a shiver down my spine...

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Wonderful unbridled hypocrisy oozing out of a man who has no shame - forgetting that he kicked disabled people (Remploy - shut) hate crimes against them at record levels, tells them it is a life-style choice, and they are fit-to-work, then brings his family and crocodile tears appear to the delight of the gullible. A man with zero integrity fooling no one! certainly delivered his inner self-self!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    'Painful decisions',it must have been terribly painful arranging £40,000 tax handouts every year for his rich friends.
    The £90 per week being taken from a category of cancer victims is his way of showing what he means by sharing the ' proceeds of growth'.
    I agree with Tory MP and military hero P Mercer that he is not to be trusted as far as he can be thrown.
    He has failed miserably.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The problem with highlighting how bad the global economy is now, is that people may actually remember that the global recession wasn't caused by Brown/Blair. Which is what most of the Coalitions fundemental policies revolve around.
    Yet another politican only willing to be associated with good news, trying to distance himself from anything else!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Both Slasher Cameron & the Boy Gideon know they are a one term Govt only......

    .....hence their demands to slash and burn even more than already announed - they are trying to do as much damage to us ordinary folk as possible in what time they have left.....

    ...whatever happened to the One Nation Tories, it was such an honorable thing......

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Privilege means that you are given an unfair advantage over others; by its very nature it cannot be spread out. The whole idea is nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The conference season is a sham in that each political party simply plays to their own audience with policies that they know are popular and that the delegates will support them regardless.

    The difficult part comes when they each have to convince the non-brainwashed to vote for them and as it stands I don't see any of them offering anything new.

    One nation or aspiration? More like desperation!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    You can fool some of the people... Alastair Darling's policies were working: Labour is more economically literate than the tories. Cameron and his coterie are actually engaged in real class war: lowering wages (people working for nothing, effectively slavery), reducing protection in the workplace. They might claim otherwise, but the tories' policies don't work; they make things worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Well thanks to him we are certainly an "AprinNation" now - a headache we may never recover from. Must go and chaillax now - bring me another glass this one's half empty Butler Cleggers)

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    So it looks like the new Tory plan will be for the ministers to do all the dirty work (Gove and Grayling in particular will love that, Osborne not so much) while yet again Cameron is glossed and glammed up for election time (and in particular the TV debates). It really is time for the UK electorate to tell all our politicians it isn't skin-deep presentation we're after.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Until Cameron REALLY starts to govern for the whole country, and not just powerful greedy corporations, people will not take him seriously.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    There is no inner Cameron - he is Flash Harry with no substance. He clearly has no knowledge understanding of history - e.g. his belief that the US was at war with Germany in 1940.
    Perhaps he could come up with an example of a country which has cut its way out recession? I'm pleased to see that Britain can rise again - at least he is admitting that the country is on its knees!


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