Social responsibility is key - Cameron

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor Tory leader David Cameron yesterday pledged to win power as the leader of a “sensible centre-right party” committed to “social responsibility” and stressed there would be no return to a Thatcherite tax-cutting agenda.

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor

Tory leader David Cameron yesterday pledged to win power as the leader of a “sensible centre-right party” committed to “social responsibility” and stressed there would be no return to a Thatcherite tax-cutting agenda.

Making his first address to an annual Conservative conference, he accused the government of engaging in the “nationalisation of everyday life”, and said he wanted to turn Britain from a country of state responsibility to one of social responsibility - 'a Britain where we do not just ask what government can do; we ask what people can do, what society can do'.

A government led by him would expect higher standards in the delivery of services in the NHS and schools, he said, but would not tell professionals how to do it. It would say to them: “You are professionals. We believe in your vocation.”

Mr Cameron said a one-word answer to people asking what he is all about is “optimism”. And he ended on an appeal to “let sunshine win the day”.

The comment seemed to be aimed at chancellor Gordon Brown, against whom Mr Cameron could be leading his party into the next general election.

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He defined his vision of social responsibility as “the essence of liberal conservatism”. And in saying that and promising to fight on the “centre ground, on which this party's success has always been built”, he threw down the gauntlet to people in the party starting to call for tax cuts and a return to Thatcherite policies.

He praised Lady Thatcher for what she had done for the country, but immediately continued: “But today people want different things.” He also deliberately took issue with the former prime minister's famous assertion that 'there is no such thing as society'.

“There is such a thing as society. But it is not the same thing as the state”, he said.

Slapping down those calling for a speedy commitment to tax-cutting, he said it would be wrong to make policy up on the spur of the moment, and akin to building a house without foundations.

The remark was a rebuke for the Tory tax reform commission, under former minister Lord Forsyth which has been reported to be close to recommending that the party should commit itself to a programme leading to reductions in tax of up to £20bn a year.

A recent dip for the Tories in the opinion polls has encouraged people in the party who feel that Mr Cameron's policies are too bland and Blairite. But he and shadow chancellor George Osborne have repeatedly stressed in the past few days that they have no intention of backing down, and that their top economic priority will be “stability”.

Mr Cameron won a standing ovation for his speech. He will make another speech on Wednesday, and he promised to talk in more detail then about the issues and challenges facing the country.

He told the party's representatives at Bournemouth: “My argument is based on a simple analogy. Getting ready for the responsibility of government is like building a house together. Think of it in three stages. First you prepare the ground. Then you lay the foundations. And then, finally, brick-by-brick, you build your house.”

“In these past ten months we have moved back to the ground on which this party's success has always been built: the centre ground of British politics”, he continued.

“A strong government needs strong foundations and I want us to lay those foundations this week.

“That's not about individual policies, it is about a vision of the Britain we want to see - a Britain where we do not just ask what government can do, we ask what people can do, what society can do. A Britain where we stop thinking you can pass laws to make people good and start realising that we are all in this together.”

He accused the Government of being “haunted by the failures of nine years of centralisation, gimmicks and spin” with a prime example being plans for a nationwide ID card. Describing it as “a vast white elephant” and “a plastic poll tax” he pledged to abolish it.

Illustrating his social responsibility theme, Mr Cameron said TV chef Jamie Oliver had done more to improve school food than the Education Department.

“Put another way, we need more of Supernanny, less of the nanny state”, he said.