David Cameron has often been accused of being an ‘essay crisis’ Prime Minister. Today he blasted that image to smithereens. In front of a full hall, David Cameron made his first speech as Prime Minister of an entirely Conservative government.
Much of it will resonate with Tory activists and the wider public. Some of it will go down like a cup of cold sick. Make no mistake, Cameron is fully back in ‘heir to Blair’ mode.
The Prime Minister has made no secret of his desire to govern as a ‘One Nation’ conservative in the mould of Benjamin Disraeli. Today he vowed to tackle the “big social problems”: inequality, poverty and discrimination.
Cameron sees himself as the leader of a “modern, compassionate, One Nation Conservative Party”. Today he vowed to put social justice, equality for gay people, tackling climate change and helping the world’s poorest “at the centre” of the Conservative agenda.
His pitch today was aimed squarely at centrist and former Labour voters put off by Labour’s turn towards extremism under new leader Jeremy Corbyn. The Prime Minister seeks to make Labour irrelevant – by stealing their language and marrying it to a broadly Tory agenda.
Cameron was scathing about Corbyn’s ‘new politics’. The Conservatives will “keep our head as Labour lose theirs”, the Mr Cameron said. “If you want a lecture about poverty, ask Labour. If you want something done about it, come to us, the Conservatives”.
He made a somewhat cringworthy sex joke about Richard Murphy, Jeremy Corbyn’s economic guru and author of ‘The Joy of Tax’. Of Murphy’s book, Mr Cameron said: “I took it home to show Samantha. It’s got 64 positions. And none of them work”.
The battle for the British economy “has only just begun”, said the Prime Minister, praising “our Iron Chancellor” George Osborne. But a strong economy is not enough. Mr Cameron also promised to build a “stronger society”.
Cameron’s Conservative government will, he says, wage an “all out assault on poverty”. He pledged to tackle the “root causes” of poverty: workless households, family breakdown, drug and alcohol addiction, abuse, and mental health problems.
Echoing Iain Duncan Smith’s words yesterday, Mr Cameron affirmed that the best route out of poverty is through work. He highlighted welfare reform, the higher personal allowance and the controversial National Living Wage pledge as examples of how the Conservatives are already making work pay. He also announced a national crusade to build more homes and create a new generation of property owners.
The Prime Minister criticised the lack of social mobility in Britain as “unacceptable”. He pointed out that “here, the salary you earn is more linked to what your father got paid than in any other major country”. He promised that the Conservatives – “the party of aspiration” – would bring this to an end.
Cameron also laid into racial discrimination, calling it “unacceptable” that people with “white-sounding names” are more likely to get work than people with “ethnic-sounding names”. Opportunity, he claimed, means little to persecuted Muslims, blacks and gays. “As a father of two daughters”, he expressed his concern over the ‘gender pay gap’ and pledged to end it. He promised to “finish the fight for real equality”.
By adopting the language of the ‘anti-prejudice’ left, Cameron was effectively rebuking many of his own party members as he sought to appeal to their enemies.
The Prime Minister declared he would “really confront” extremism, telling delegates that the actions of British-born terrorists “horrified” him. He vowed to fight against the “diseased view of the world” that encourages young men and women to travel to Syria or Iraq and join ISIS.
He defended his use of drone strikes to kill two British-born ISIS operatives in Syria earlier this year. “I took decisive action to keep Britain safe”, he said, “and that’s what I will always do”.
Cameron said there had been too much “passive tolerance” of extremist practices in Britain, and promised stern action against those who inflict forced marriage and female genital mutilation on their children.
He spoke of Muslim children being taught in Madrassas that they “shouldn’t mix with people of other religions” and being fed “conspiracy theories about Jewish people”, and outlined a tough new approach to faith schools. “If you are teaching intolerance, we will shut you down”.
On national security, he pledged to maintain the UK’s two percent NATO defence spending commitment and build four new Trident ballistic missile submarines. He also promised to keep spending 0.7 percent of national income on foreign aid, an area of conflict between the Prime Minister and many Tory activists.
Cameron also defended his support for Britain’s continued membership of the European Union, “the biggest single market in the world”. Britain, he claimed, would be better off getting “stuck in” and trying to “fix problems” than it would walking away from the European project.
However he acknowledged that the EU is currently “too big, too bossy and too interfering”, and said he had “no romantic attachment to the European Union and its institutions”. He promised to keep Britain out of “ever closer union” and deliver a meaningful renegotiation.
The really obvious thing about this speech is how un-conservative it all seems. Talk about tackling racism and inequality will only entrench the beliefs of the left that Britain is an unjust, unequal and racist society. Meanwhile, on EU membership and foreign aid the Prime Minister remains at odds with much of his own party and many of his backbenchers.
Talk about ending “passive tolerance” is all well and good when it comes to female genital mutilation, forced marriage and joining ISIS. But a war on faith schools and extremist views will undoubtedly hit Christians and traditionalists – as well as many Muslims who have nothing at all to do with terrorism or extremism – equally hard.
The less obvious thing is how conservative many of the announcements actually are. There is to be no change of course on the economy, the deficit, the benefits cap or tax credits. Cameron took a firm line on the European refugee crisis. Social mobility – ensuring each generation have more and wider opportunities than the generation before – is a deeply conservative value.
The Prime Minister left the stage to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow’. He has clearly done a lot of thinking about what kind of Tory government he wants to lead. Many loyal Conservatives aren’t going to like all of it.
Chris has been a member of the Conservative Party since 2010. He believes strongly in individual freedom, personal responsibility, and the power of free markets to eliminate poverty by encouraging wealth creation. Follow him on Twitter: @
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