Cameron launches Tory 'mission' document

FOUR party leaders since 1997 and four relaunches of Tory policies and philosophies - will David Cameron's Built to Last be any different from the other three? Political Editor GRAHAM DINES looks at the detail of the 12 page document.

FOUR party leaders since 1997 and four relaunches of Tory policies and philosophies - will David Cameron's Built to Last be any different from the other three? Political Editor GRAHAM DINES looks at the detail of the 12 page document.

THE Conservative Party is the oldest established political party in Britain. Its longevity is explained by its ability to change with the times.

It is not rooted in or influenced by any particular philosophy - for instance, in the course of 10 years, it shifted from being rabidly pro-European under Edward Heath to highly Eurosceptic with Margaret Thatcher.

Under Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, and Alec Douglas-Home, it believed in the paternalist influence of the welfare state. Under Margaret Thatcher, the Tories became associated with individual greed and an uncompromising adherence to a free market which had little pity on the weakest in society.

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While Thatcher and John Major believed in empowering the individual, their party fell apart amid the disasters of negative equity, the enforced withdrawal from the European exchange rate mechanism, and a number of high profile sex and cash scandals which became universally decried as sleaze.

The Conservative paid a high price - Labour reinvented itself, ditched long standing causes, became more Tory than the Tory Party in its reform of public services and its economic and internationalist outlook, and won three general elections on the trot.

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During the period of Tony Blair's government, the Tories have had four leaders. Only David Cameron has had the guts and the confidence to tell his party - as Tony Blair told Labour - that it has to overcome its demons if it ever wants to see power again.

Mr Cameron appreciates that the rise of Labour into public acceptance was only achieved when Tony Blair won a symbolic victory over his party's reactionary elements by rewriting Clause IV of Labour's constitution and dumping on anything which reminded voters of socialism and its lurch to the left after 1979.

The Conservatives are being turned away from Thatcherism - any speaker who mentions the Blessed Margaret's name during a party conference speech will be cheered to the rafters by delegates but given icy looks by the leadership who really do not want the electorate at large reminded of her premiership.

Mr Cameron's Clause IV moment is yesterday's publication of Built to Last - the aims and values of the Conservative Party.

After the draft was debated and severely criticised by party members at a series of nationwide meetings, it has emerged at twice the length and now will be put to a ballot of all party members before being adopted by the party's conference in October.

An official summary of the views revealed members had asked why there were no explicit commitments on pensions, why it ignored science and technology, transport and housing, and why there was no mention of “Britain as a player in European and global politics”.

There was concern over efforts to boost the number of women MPs through the controversial A-list of candidates, with the summary concluding: “Members reasoned that the party should be meritocratic, not tokenistic. Meritocracy is more important than quotas.”

Nevertheless, Mr Cameron is convinced he is charting the course for a return to power. Some Tory members might not like it, but he's convinced the voters will.

In a forward to the document, Mr Cameron says that to “meet the challenges of the 21st century, and to satisfy people's aspirations, this country needs a responsibility revolution”.

These revolutions must be in personal, professional, civic and corporate responsibilities. “That is the mission of the modern Conservative party - a responsibility revolution to create an opportunity society, a society in which everybody is a somebody, a doer not a done-for.”

The Tory leader asserts that the party's aims and values “are built to last. They are as relevant now as they have ever been.”

That means the Tories will fight social injustice, help the most disadvantaged, increase drug rehabilitation for young people, support special schools, and increase respite care.

The environment and help for the third world - two issues which exercise in particular votes aged 18-35 - are high on the agenda. Britons will be encouraged to become more eco-conscious in the use resources through energy and water conservation, and better recycling.

There's a pledge to provide first-class healthcare, education and housing that responds to the needs of the individual, not through the state trying to run public services but by giving choice to parents, patients and families.

There are plans for a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act, a unified UK-wide border police, a ministry for homeland security, and a pledge to scrap identity cards if this Government introduces them.

There'll be an English counter to devolution in Scotland and Wales. Regional assemblies will be abolished and powers returned to local government.

However, there are no promises for tax cuts, which had been called for by many party members during the consultation stage.

Mr Cameron says Built to Last gives a “sense of direction” for what a Conservative government would actually do.

This mini manifesto was published, as Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said yesterday, on the 20th anniversary of unemployment reaching its highest ever level since the Second World War when more than 3m people were out of work under Mrs Thatcher.

Perhaps the date chosen was deliberate, designed to show that the 21st century Tories have at last cast off the last vestiges of Thatcherism.

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