It's time for some policies Mr Cameron

NINE points clear in the latest opinion poll - that's the comforting message for David Cameron as he celebrates his first anniversary as leader of the Conservative Party.

By Graham Dines

NINE points clear in the latest opinion poll - that's the comforting message for David Cameron as he celebrates his first anniversary as leader of the Conservative Party.

Twelve months of saying much but promising little seems somehow to have caught the public's imagination.

Here is a fresh faced politician who is unafraid to upset the ageing colonels in tweeds and ladies in twin sets and pearls - the image of traditional Old Guard Tories - by embracing same sex relationships, espousing the need for more minority ethnic and female MPs, wanting to fight third world poverty, demanding help for the disadvantaged at home, backing the health service, seeking to understand the causes of youth crime, cheering on the green revolution, tackling climate change and refusing to promise to cut taxes.


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One can only imagine the reaction of Tory activists when their leader refused to have his photograph taken alongside Lady Thatcher at her 80th birthday celebrations and then, a few days later, suddenly flew to South Africa to be photographed shaking hands with Nelson Mandela.

Or when Rehman Chishti, a defector from Labour who had stood against party chairman Francis Maude at the last election, was made a priority candidate.

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The last 12 months have been spent drawing the Tories back from the brink. Thatcherism has run its course and its taken 16 years for the Conservative Party to realise that if it really wants to return to office, it has to ditch much of the strident selfish society of the 1980s and head into to the centre ground to focus on issues which concern today's socially aware young voters.

Although the ICM poll for the News of the World found that floating voters believe Chancellor Gordon Brown would make a better premier, the next election will be fought with Mr Brown in Downing Street.

Pitched against the younger and more amiable Cameron, Gordon Brown's Scottish, dour, Presbyterian image could be his downfall in scores of vulnerable seats across much of England.

But as Mr Cameron acknowledges, the Conservatives still have a mountain to climb to win power. A nine point lead, even if that was maintained until polling day, would not be enough to bring victory.

A hung parliament would be the best the Tories could achieve on a 9% lead. Which is why the Tories are hoping that once Gordon Brown is installed in Downing Street, the gloss will finally come off the era of New Labour.

Even though he has an Eton and aristocratic background, David Cameron is certainly the most unorthodox leader the Conservative Party has produced for decades.

Compassionate Conservatism is now the order of the day. The wing of the party represented by Lord Tebbit and John Redwood may be vocal - and talked up by a Labour Party desperate to represent the Tories as a bunch of nasty tax cutters who would kill off public services - but they are no longer representative of 21st century Toryism.

“I was determined on being leader of the Conservative Party to get our party back into the centre ground, to get us into the mainstream of debate in Britain,” says Mr Cameron. “I ran for election on that ticket, and I've done that ever since.”

And that's the basis of the 'A' list - candidates given the modernising seal of approval from Central Office and presented to local Tory associations with the clear message that these bright young things are the way forward. Witham Tories got the message and chose a 34-year-old Asian woman as their candidate.

Cameron's mission is to reverse the Tory decline. The seedy end of John Major's government should have alerted Conservative activists to just why their party was no longer trusted or loved by the electorate.

But blind to the causes of defeat and in awe and reverence of Margaret Thatcher, the Tories elected William Hague and then Iain Duncan Smith to turn their fortunes around. Both were disasters.

Michael Howard was nominated unopposed but while he managed to cut Labour's landslide majorities, he was still part of the old regime which was never going to win back Middle England.

Cameron saw what dragons Tony Blair had slain to transform a once unelectable Labour Party after 18 years in the wilderness into the finest political campaigning machine of modern times.

And Cameron has been determined to embark on some major surgical work on his own party. “We modernise or we lose again” has been his consistent warning.

The Cameron school of logic is based on the premise that right wing Tories and long-term activists might mutter and splutter at such typically un-Tory priorities as the plight of millions in Darfur and erecting wind turbines on the roof, but there is no other place to go if they want to remove Labour from Downing Street.

Some might be tempted by the UK Independence Party. But new thinking on Europe which is promised before the next election should be enough to staunch any mass defection to UKIP.

What Cameron has achieved is that once again people are starting to listen to the Tories.

And so far, while he may have said little of substance, the electorate seems to like what they see and think they hear.

How else can be explained the opinion polls showing the Tories are ahead of Labour on the key battleground of health when in truth the Conservative Party has no substantial policy on the NHS and won't have for months to come.

But if this Tory revival is to continue, the Conservatives have got to flesh out policy on major domestic issues. As Gordon Brown beds in as Labour leader - if it is to be Gordon Brown - they will have to start out-trumping the new-look Labour government.

Mr Cameron has probably until the next Conservative Party conference to come up with substantive policies to shut up his critics in the media. He makes a start today by focussing on school standards and visiting a school in London.

To claim Downing Street, the Tories must win Ipswich and Waveney from Labour, and Colchester from the Liberal Democrats. Two out of the three is unlikely to be enough - failure in all three means another Tory catastrophe.

Losing the next election narrowly is probably forgivable in the eyes of most Tories, especially if they are stitched up the Liberal Democrats doing a deal with Labour.

But another heavy defeat would spell the end of the Cameron era, and probably the Conservative Party.

WORDS YOU NEVER EXPECTED TO HAVE HEARD FROM A TORY PARTY LEADER

On same sex relationships: “There's something special about marriage . . . when you stand up there, in front of your friends and your family, in front of the world, whether it's in a church or anywhere else, what you're doing really means something. And by the way, it means something whether you're a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and another man.”

On relations with the United States: “I have said we must be steadfast not slavish in how we approach the special relationship. Apparently Tony Blair disagrees. Well if he's accusing me of wanting to be a British prime minister pursuing a British foreign policy then I plead guilty.”'

On advocating the Tories hug a hoodie: “If the police stand for sanctions and penalties, you stand for love”

On embracing the environmental lobby: “Vote blue, go green”

On refusing to support tax cuts: “A low tax economy is a strong economy. But some people want me to flash up some pie in the sky tax cuts to show what we stand for. Let me tell you straight. That is not substance. We will not take risks with the economy. We will not make promises we can't keep.”

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