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 190.

    Labour looks ridicules moaning about borrowing figures when we all know that borrowing would be higher if they were in power now. By ideology alone they would be doomed if they were in power today, the things their grass roots would force them to do would be catastrophic when you consider, its not just what we think of our economy but what those we owe money to think also.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    'One Notion' Labour - Borrowing! That was so funny!

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Cameron offers decline or decline. Decline in wages, pensions, working conditions and state services in order to compete with 2.6bn Chinese and Indians in an ever dwindling employment market, or the fear of decline if we don't follow his (ahem) plan.

    Other than an open tax-free door to any business where are his long term policies that detail exactly how he aims for us to compete?

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    177. Justin 150. "Cameron at least had a proper job outside of politics and so has a better claim to being a "working man" than Milliband whose only job was a researcher to Andrew Rawnsley - for a political TV show."

    After Oxford Mr Milliband lectured in economics at Harvard University, one of the foremost universities in the USA. You Tories are just not very good at getting things right!

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    Cameron is a light-weight. He is no more capable of leading this country as he is his party. He is as unappealing as William Hague, Ian Duncan Smith or Michael Howard. During the run-up to the 2010 General Election almost all of the media had turned on Labour and Gordon Brown. Even then, the ineffectual Cameron was unable to command an overall majority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    DC also did not define himself as a blaspheming Monty Python atheist type. Far from it

    Not sure about Labour leader who may well be a blaspheming Monty Pythons atheist just like some at the BBC claim to be?

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    At least Cameron realises the biggest problem for the UK is the national debt and the deficit. Milliband never even mentioned it, maybe he's embarrassed by the 'borrow our way out of debt' response from his party?

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    "Hidden Tory" is more accurate
    Camoron claimed the Tories accept Constitutional reform-now they've stop H.O.L reform
    Human Rights should not be sacrificed for security he said in 2005, yet now he's freely allowing the "snooping"bill.
    He said his government would be the greenest, yet he's allowing over 40 new open cast mines to be dug...
    Well done Dave, we all know what a fat fraud you are now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Universal credit will be make or break for the Conservatives! Because a lot of people will need it in the next few years. If it gets people back into work great! but if its another disguised welfare cut then welcome back Labour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Cameron showed his inner Tory when he said the Badger cull was a good thing.....

    .....evidence Dave? Oh, you don't have any do you? But you think it keeps us country folk happy so why not eh?

    ...it really comes to something when a Tory PM is out of touch with majority opinion in the countryside.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    As always "its not what they say its what they DO"

    Mr David (were all in this together) Cameron gave us a classic example of this

    pre election he said the NHS is safe in my hands there will be no top down changes.

    Post election action the biggest top down reorganisation of the NHS in history.

    He's a carpet bagger a snake oil salesman who cannot be trusted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Sorry but he is out of place.

    Party of the Home-Owners?? Is he serious? What about us tenants? We are squeezed from high rents, low savings, high inflation and high house prices..

    In all these areas, the goverment is against us. No cap on rents, no end to the low savings rates, ignoring the high inflation and doing all it can to keep house prices high.

    Sorry but hope that he is out soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Judging by the bile on this board and the lack of coverage after the speech Cameron did a good job. Well done Dave. He told the truth. But labour will never get that tax is other peoples money.

    All Wallace did was waffle about himself, grin like goofy and try to steal Disraeli's clothes - and yet we were told how fantastic he was for days afterwards. Bizarre?

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    #173 are you referring to Cameron or Milliband?

    Cameron at least has had a proper job outside of politics and so has a better claim to being a "working man" than Milliband whose only job was a researcher to Andrew Rawnsley - for a political TV show

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    150 it's you who is having the laugh. Great economic figures... Because the tories had sold of all the family silver . Utilities, rail, bus services, closed the steel, mining and decimated ship building The uk is a big Thatcher shop relying on banking, shifting the power away from the majority to the minority. Election now before we see Post, NHS sold off under the guise of Austerity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    174. Lawrence - hypocrisy is right, they should have raised it to 50% years ago.
    Just out of interest, in what other way will those on £150,000 pa be "in it" with the rest of us?
    Or are they some sort of special exempted species?

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Tory Boy: don't forget Labour, knowing they were to lose the last election, raised the upper personal tax-rate from 40% to 50% out of sheer spitefullness (Brown, Balls & Miliband), and now moan that the Tories have reduced it to 45%. Hypocrital of Balls and Miliband or what? Those 2 sat beside Brown and the 3 of them 'set up' the next Government. Not my sort of mates for sure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Posh rich boys playing at politics, as even Nadine Dorries (a Tory) seems to think.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    169.Smiffie - "How about a "Working Plebs" party?"

    The way the Coalition are running the economy into the ground with their self defeating austerity causing the deficit to rise to record monthly levels we'd have to have the party soon or there'll be hardly any of us plebs left working.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    He didn't need to mention the coalition for two reasons; firstly, this is the Tory conference and they don't want to hear about it, and secondly, for all those in that hall it is an embarrasment they would much rather be on their own. He had to send the faithful out with a spring in their step and a bee in their bonnets. And I think he did that. Next year will be the killer (or not) year.


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