Commentary (The Times)

Conservatism: “We can never return to the policies of the Thatcher era, says Cameron” (Cameron party conference speech)

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 2 October 2006
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 657 words
Themes: Conservatism, Education, Trade unions

We can never return to the policies of the Thatcher era, says Cameron

By Philip Webster, Political Editor

DAVID CAMERON told his right-wing critics last night that he would “stick with the plan” and not be pushed around, saying there would be no return to the policies of the past.

In a clear break with Thatcherism, the Conservative leader said that the days when his party obsessed about issues such as Europe, grammar schools, private healthcare and tax cuts should be gone forever.

Instead, the party should seize back the centre ground and unite around his vision of social responsibility. Confirming his departure from Thatcherite thinking he said: “There is such a thing as society.”

In his first party conference speech as leader, Mr Cameron made plain that he would face down the internal opponents who wanted him to move to the right. He said: “Our party’s history tells us the ground on which political success is built. It is the centre ground, not some bog on the fringes of the debate but the solid ground where people are. The centre ground is where you find the concerns, the hopes and the dreams of most people and families in this country.”

Mr Cameron won backing for his strategy from John McCain, a front-runner to be the Republican Party’s candidate in the next American presidential election. In an interview with The Times Mr McCain, who also addressed the Bournemouth gathering, advised the Conservatives against committing themselves on policy before Labour chooses its next leader. He suggested that Mr Cameron should take his time.

In a BBC interview Mr Cameron said that he would continue to resist pressure to lay out a full policy platform at this stage in the Parliament, with perhaps three years to go before the next election. “I’m not going to be pushed around on this issue of pulling out policies too early,” he said.

While praising Baroness Thatcher, he suggested that voters now wanted something different from the Tories. In 1979 most families had wanted a government to tame the unions and rescue the economy.

“Margaret Thatcher offered precisely that alternative and this party can for ever take pride in her magnificent achievement. Today, people want different things.”

Then, in a lengthy passage clearly aimed at his critics, such as Lord Tebbit, Mr Cameron added: “For too long we were having a different conversation. Instead of talking about the things that most people care about, we talked about what we cared about most.

“While parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life, we were banging on about Europe. As they worried about standards in thousands of secondary schools, we obsessed about a handful more grammar schools. As rising expectations demanded a better NHS for everyone, we put our faith in opt-out for a few. While people wanted more than anything stability and low mortgage rates, the first thing we talked about was tax cuts.

“For years this country wanted — desperately needed — a sensible centre-right party to sort things out in a sensible way. That’s what we are today. 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. And that is where we will stay.”

Mr Cameron said that this week he wanted to lay the foundations. “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.”

Mr Cameron says today that he would consider exempting British soldiers fighting overseas from paying income tax, claiming that they were the only Nato combatants subject to it. When the Conservative Party put together its Forces Manifesto it would look at ways of alleviating financial pressures for soldiers, he told The Sun.