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 70.

    "And we here know how that is done. It is the collective result of individual effort and aspiration, the ideas you have, the businesses you start, the hours you put in" quote D Cameron
    except that others gain the rewards for your hard work as they sit out in their tax havens and you, as the actual wealth creator, get hammered from all directions and accused of demanding too much.
    The guy's a joke

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Dave's version of Britain is a fantasy island, a rose-coloured spin of the grubby truth. His policies have divided the nation as he goes about dismantling the state so that his big business friends can make a killing.
    If he's so concerned about the poor and needy, why has he done so much to make their lives worse? Why has he deliberately spread attitudes that are so callous?

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.


    i am afraid you got your parties mixed up as it is the tories that have Dickensian policies

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    It was predictable that some fools fell for act. The speech was absolutely desperate. People have short memories it seems. The Tories are dire and always will be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Whereas Blair's policy was to make GCSE grading criteria so amazingly low that all but the thickest students could pass them, thereby enhancing their chances of going off to college/uni? I took GCSEs in 2000 and even then I only needed 60% for an A in maths. The whole wretched system needs replacing. It fails the brightest and gets up the hopes of those less capable. In short, lose all round.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Sink or Swim seems appropriate.
    Considering this Shower have been out of their depth since they didn't get elected!

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    @ 60. Daveuk

    Did it say how much of that £1800 goes on rent? Which is of course taxpayer money that goes straight into the pocket of a 'wealth creator'? Thank goodness there are aspiring entrepreneurs like that helping out the nation!

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    How can a government with the three most important figures, Cameron, Clegg and Osbourne from banking families be expected to get tough on banks?

    The solution to the crisis is to target the cause. The corrupt greedy nature of certain individuals is going unchecked by those elected to stop it happening, be it bankers or tax evaders.

    A focus on any other issues is a deliberate distraction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Labour doesn't understand the extent of the economic crisis?
    Well Dave, when the put in their totally inadequate banking regulations (trying to get the billionaire Tory bankers on side-the fools) you lot said they too severe.
    Nevertheless, though I'm no fan, Brown did very quickly get the appropriate banking countries to take emergency action. You didn't like that either at first.
    Go away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    The irrelavance of Labour could not have been made clearer. Labour represents a philosophy for the early 20th century, which is as much use for today's world as a chocolate teapot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    I just read a woman (a single mum with 4 kids) on this BBC site objecting to cuts, yet she listed what she gets in benefits and it totals around £1,800 a month. There are plenty of working people who earn much less than that and fight to make ends meet. Sorry but this doesnt seem fair so quite right that benefits need to be trimmed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    The biggest problem Cameron has is that what he is saying is in all-too-frequent contrast to what he is doing. Millions unemployed, welfare slashed, the deficit and borrowing on the up, and tax cuts for the rich. He can't expect to fob people off with soundbites like 'Aspiration Nation' and 'Spreading privilege' when families are struggling and foodbanks can't meet demand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    yet again we see how biased the tory pr department are when its liberal or labour conferance its all mud slining about them but when its their lord and master david the liar cameron and the tories its all either look how great the tories are or not allowed to comment.
    why pay for your tv licence its only going to pay for tory pr

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Bring back Labour, I really miss the Spiralling National Debt, Benefits for everyone and put it on tick economics of Brown and Darling

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Same old Tory!!! it's not me it's them, shall I remind Him and all of you here the state of this Country in 1997 simply a third world Country, Labour had spend yes but why???? the Tory have spent time reducing Tax for the rich instead of investing in public services!! today the deficit is wider than 2,5 years ago and that is Labour is it?? What a laugh, let's bring a general election now please!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Same old Tory, no substance,only the party faithful believe any thing this man says.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    So yet again: self interest before public service....

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    More cuts great, my family sufferd under the last tory goverment both my farther and I lost our jobs in public transport due to dereregulation, now due to cuts in disability benifits, my wife who works looks likely to lose her job because if she loses her mobility benifit which she uses for car , her lost of her car means no access to wk , party for all my A..E, rich get richer, poor/disabled nowt

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Cameron's Plan / Tory Plan - Hit the Poor Hard, Poodle up to the Rich, Kill workers rights, Kill the National Health, Make it only the Rich can go to University!!! same old Tories

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    i get so annoyed at people on here mocking DC's background and his comments about spreading the "unfair advantage" of "privilege". There really are some in this country who cannot comprehend english. He was saying his vision is for EVERY child to have the quality education he had..achievable ? Maybe not, but that is what he is saying. People who dont get this need to go back to school !


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