David Cameron stakes his claim today to be the voice of
moderate, progressive Britain in a remarkable interview
in which he says that the Conservatives speak for a 21st
century generation of Britons who are non-ideological and
want politics to be practical.
In a revealing interview with The Observer, the new Tory
leader jettisoned his party's hardline image on immigration,
saying he welcomed those fleeing genuine persecution abroad.
He also demanded greater social responsibility from business
and offered new support for working parents.
Cameron used his first newspaper interview since becoming
leader to spell out his determination to return his party
to the 'mainstream of party politics', discarding baggage
that has kept the Tories out of power.
Calling on Britons to take asylum seekers 'to our hearts'
where they had genuinely suffered persecution, Cameron confirmed
that he would consider ditching the controversial Conservative
policy of capping the number of refugees that Britain accepts.
He promised that his party would no longer be the 'mouthpiece'
of big business, freeing it to champion working parents,
environmentalists and other causes whose interests clash
with the Tories' friends in the City. And he revealed that
he will take a week's paternity leave when his third child
Hague in charge. (See my letter
to Mr Hague in 2001)
Cameron spoke as a new Ipsos/MORI poll for The Observer
put the Tories a startling nine points ahead of Labour among
those sure to vote - and Cameron only four points behind
Gordon Brown as the best potential Prime Minister. In the
interview, he also disclosed his worries about raising his
children in the public gaze, and he attacked government
plans for a partial ban on smoking in public places, describing
it as 'the worst of all worlds'.
In a wide-ranging discussion Cameron said that Conservative
clubs should admit women as equal members. He admitted that
he has been foxhunting about 10 times, and thinks the current
ban is 'persecuting minorities'.
Crucially, Cameron also threatened to vote against Tony
Blair's controversial school reforms 'if [Blair] caves in'
to rebel Labour MPs
His tone on immigration, however,
best demonstrates Cameron's courtship of liberal opinion.
Praising the cultural and economic benefits of immigration,
he added: 'We will have a big amount of emigration
and immigration, but will also recognise that a responsible
government needs to look at the level of net migration
in terms of also providing good public services and
having good community relations.'
Defending the language on immigration
in the last manifesto - which he wrote - Cameron admitted
there was a 'very deep perception problem' over Tory
handling of the issue, but said the politician who
got immigration most 'spectacularly wrong' was the
former Home Secretary, David Blunkett.
'He was the person who talked about
us being swamped: he used irresponsible language at
the same time as having a chaotic immigration policy.
'I want the Conservative party
to do the opposite: use moderate, reasonable, sensible
language, and to have a policy that actually delivers.'
Asked if he would ditch the quota
policy, widely criticised for rejecting people who
have suffered genuine persecution, he said it would
be included in the policy rethink that he recently
Race Card Again!
It all started when the mischievous
Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) approached
the leaders of the political parties and asked
them jointly to sign a declaration that they
would not "exploit" the race issue
during the election.
What all of these leaders should have done was
tell the CRE to "get stuffed"
However, we could hardly expect Labour or the
Liberal Democrats to do this.
We might - just might - in saner times have
hoped that the Tory leader would have done.
Hague just was not up to it.
He signed too.
'I want these policy reviews not to think "we're committed
to this": I want them to think "this is the big
challenge facing the country - what are the right ways of
Asked if he would ditch the quota policy, widely criticised
for rejecting people who have suffered genuine persecution,
he said it would be included in the policy rethink that
he recently launched. 'I want these policy reviews not to
think "we're committed to this": I want them to
think "this is the big challenge facing the country
- what are the right ways of meeting [it]"?'.
Cameron said he was committed not just to giving genuine
refugees asylum 'but also to taking them to our hearts,
and feeding and clothing and schooling them'.
Cameron-style liberalism may upset some Labour voters:
he regards hunting as an issue of personal freedom, and
backs repeal of the 'shambolic' ban. However, his stance
on business allows a rethink over issues from maternity
leave, on which the Tories have been perceived as old-fashioned,
to green taxes and the minimum wage.
'There's been a danger in the past that the Conservative
party has been seen too much as just "whatever big
business wants",' he said. 'I didn't go into politics
to be the mouthpiece for big business.'
It was 'very difficult' balancing work and family life,
he said, admitting he and his wife Samantha worry about
protecting their children's privacy. 'I probably get it
wrong a lot of the time: and hopefully, I get it right a
lot of the time,' he said.
Cameron also boosted his female-friendly credentials by
saying that Conservative clubs, such as the Carlton, that
do not admit women as full members should be 'completely
open' to both sexes, although he said that non-political
gentlemen's clubs, such as his own, White's, should continue
to be able to discriminate.
A trickier issue is the debate on whether cannabis should
be reclassified. Despite his previous support for downgrading
the drug, Cameron said he would allow the shadow cabinet
to decide the Tory position.
'If the government is bringing forward new scientific evidence,
we will look at it,' he said, adding there was still a 'longer
term piece of work' to be done on the correct classification
of illegal drugs.
Last night Ian McCartney, the Labour party chairman, dismissed
Cameron's claims, adding that the Opposition leader 'might
be repacking the Tories for Christmas, but he is the same
old right-winger underneath'.