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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 October 2005, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Assinder's view: Cameron speech
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website in Blackpool

David Cameron
Is he the Tories' Tony Blair?
He's young, he's energetic and he's vigorous but, as would-be Tory leader David Cameron said himself, that's not all it takes to be a party leader.

Yet that is a big part of the 38-year-old's unique selling point to Conservative MPs and grassroots members.

And he pushed it for all it was worth during a pretty intense, if measured, leadership speech.

With suspiciously precise timing for an off-the-cuff performance, he took exactly 19 minutes 55 seconds of his allotted 20 minutes speaking time to drive home his central message that the Tories had to put the past well and truly behind them.

'Fundamental change'

He did not shy away from describing their last eight years in opposition as a "failure" and neither did he hold back from telling the representatives they had to fundamentally change their party.

"When I say change, I'm not talking about some slick re-branding exercise - what I'm talking about is fundamental change so that when we fight the next election street by street, house by house, flat by flat, we have a message that is relevant to people's lives today, that shows we are comfortable with modern Britain and that we believe our best days lie ahead," he declared.

CONFERENCE RATING
CV: David Cameron, 38, shadow education secretary
Key Quote: "I want to switch on a whole new generation to the Conservative Party"
Best joke: "It's not just about having a young, vigorous, energetic leader - although come to think of it, it's not such a bad idea."
Ovations: 20 rounds of applause (though some of them when he thanked others) and a three minute standing ovation finale
Speech length: 19 minutes, 55 seconds
Name drops: Praise for ex-leaders Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard
Nick Assinder's verdict: Young moderniser might have swung some votes

There were plenty of approving "heckles" at this, and more than one representative later said she believed he had changed a few minds with his impassioned, forward-looking address.

And there is no doubt he has that something, be it charisma or simply easy charm, that appeals to ordinary party activists and reminds many of them of the old Tony Blair.

He knows he is still trailing behind David Davis and Kenneth Clarke in the leadership stakes.

But he also seems to believe it is still all to play for and that it is up to the two leading contenders to defend their castles against his assault.

And each time he gives a major performance, as with the launch of his leadership campaign last week, he appears to impress a growing group of supporters who think only he can offer the symbolic new start for the party.

The Tories' Tony Blair tag may one day become a lead weight hung around his neck.

At the moment, however, he seems to wear it with relish.


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