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 90.

    The government has a problem with ITs finances.

    The country's problem is not government deficit. We spend more than we earn by significant order. That cannot continue - reported today in one month £9.8bn, up from £7.3bn the previous month in goods.

    That free trade works for the UK - is measure of how ridiculous it all is now. Insane.

    That we have serious problems, is far wide of the mark.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    The day we stop arguing on the basis of party politics is the day there could be progress. It is so disappointing to see the comfortably numb bang on with the same arguments. No solutions to anything. Go to North Korea and see how much freedom you really have to better your situation. Try sub Saharan Africa with its obvious wealth of opportunities.


  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    In May 2010 all economic and employment indicators were going in the right direction. Now after the actions of Cameron and Osborne they are all going in the wrong direction. Enough said.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    further to 82,
    If one built lots of council houses then you reduce the welfare bill by creating jobs. More importantly any housing benefit paid to council tenants is effectively just a book-keeping exercise – money moves from welfare budget to councils (small admin cost involved) who effectively pay it back to the Treasury (lower grants) & the working tenants eventually repay the building cost

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    DC "he is not on the side of the better off, he is on the side of those who want to be better off"
    Sounds like a welcoming message for foreign inverters to buy some UK assets or start business here

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Blah Blah Blah Blah. Just call an election cameron, lets get rid of you as soon as is possible. Before you destroy all the people (the rest of us) that keep you and your buddies in the style you have become accustomed to. You are just destroting everthing you touch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Why are people having to struggle so much when the government can simply print money and hand it to the banks, and when easy common sense approaches are being ignored? Does anyone else get the feeling that the situation is being deliberately prolonged? We need to take a look at who benefits from this global financial mess. Time to have a more serious discussion about what replaces Capitalism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Labour were and are useless, LibDems ineffective, and yet more hot air from yet another Hooray Henry. Where can we find someone from the real world to elect to government to save us?

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    total welfare spending 2009/10 was £188billion, of that £21billion was on relacing income for people not in work, now £21billion is a lot of money but the truth is, no matter how much of it you save by being hard on the unemployed (forget fairness for now) you're not gonna make a noticeable dent in the total bill. The numbers behind the policy just don't add up

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Is it DC's fault that he went to Eton, or Ed's fault that his parents were refugees? What's important is now isn't it? They're politicians for goodness sake (or estate agents?), trying to create a position and make themselves out better than the other. As for Mr Lansdale's summary points, no speeches cover everything. There's nothing new about people outlining their beliefs. Both did

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Apparently according to Dave "We're on the right track"

    Debt going up
    Deficit going back up
    Borrowing up
    Trade deficit going up
    Youth unemployment record high
    women's unemployment record high

    Tax cut for the richest on the way
    benefit cuts for the poorest on the way.

    Dave if this is the right track, what the hell does the wrong track feel like?

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    You've just made yourself look rather silly!

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Camerons policies have actually increased the national debt, and to use the line 'it was worse than we thought' is laughable after 2 years in government.

    I suppose what we can learn from the speach today and the last 2 years that he is extremely good at his PR- unfortunately for us though no good as a PM.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    DC was born into a privileged background and has no concept of hardships of the majority of the people of this country, he hasn't relied on handouts from the state - they came from his dad and he bought large houses and expensive holidays with his - not bread and milk. The Tories want to get rid of the something for nothing attitude yet most of them come from an everything for nothing background.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    "so much venom".

    probably because welfare last year cost the country £200 billion. so even Osborne's "huge" cuts of £10bn are a drop in the ocean. let's see, are you really that stupid you believe the country took £200 billion (at least) in tax receipts last year? how the UK has managed to stay afloat for this long is nothing short of miraculous

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Labour... borrow, borrow, borrow. That's interesting, as national debt has risen by about £60 billion under the Tories in the last year. The IMF has a few days ago said Britain is the worst country in the developed world for economic growth. Most people are smart enough to see through his divide and rule tricks.So much venom thrown at benefit claimants.So little at his rich tax avoider friends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    I just read a woman..£1,800 a month

    going after people who appear to get huge amounts of welfare may be morally satisfying but it doesn't save much money

    42% of welfare goes to OAPs, 20% to housing benefit, 15% on child benefit & tax credits, 8% to disabled but only 4% on income support.
    If you wanna save signicant money you got to go after OAPS & Landlords & working people with kids

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    If everyone is privileged, no one is.

    That's fine by me, but is that *really* fine by Cameron and his spiv friends?

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    "Tory aides fear that many voters have forgotten just what is going on in Europe and elsewhere"
    Erm could that be something like a "Revolution" A Peaceful Revolution?

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    He hasn't got a clue.


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