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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 August 2006, 12:56 GMT 13:56 UK
Cameron's quiet 'revolution'
Analysis
By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

Well at least David Cameron can no longer be accused of lacking policies.

David Cameron
Mr Cameron has set out his vision for the party's future

But will his party buy them?

Built to Last, the mini-manifesto released on Wednesday, sets out in the clearest detail yet the Conservative leader's vision for the future of his party.

It is certainly more specific, and arguably more bold, than the initial draft released in February, which was derided by some in the party as being so vague and self-evident as to be virtually meaningless.

Labour mocked its touchy-feely, uncontroversial tone as "motherhood and apple pie".

Having said that, the latest version contains few real surprises for anyone who has followed Conservative politics in recent years.

Immigration

Many of the themes - such as cutting red tape, handing more power to individual public servants and abolishing unelected regional assemblies - have featured in previous Conservative election manifesto and policy statements.

We believe that there is more to life than money
Built to Last

But unlike last year's election manifesto, there is scant mention of immigration.

And there is only a brief reference to Europe, with a pledge to oppose moves towards a European constitution "that would create a single European superstate".

The environment, predictably, gets a section to itself - although it is banded together with work/life balance issues.

"We believe that there is more to life than money; that the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our relationships and the sustainability of our environment are central in building a strong and just society," it reads.

This is probably the closest Built to Last comes to pure Cameronism - idealistic, aspirational and, his critics will no doubt say, meaninglessly vague.

'Responsibility'

In the foreword, Mr Cameron attempts to soothe the nerves of traditionalists by talking about the party's values being "as relevant now as they have ever been".

They just need applying to the challenges of the modern world, he explains, in a clear echo of New Labour's "traditional values in a modern setting".

The overriding theme of Built to Last is "responsibility", Mr Cameron has said in interviews, repeating the old ad man's trick of distilling the message into a single word.

In the foreword, he calls for a "responsibility revolution", handing power back to individuals, but also encouraging big corporations to take their responsibilities more seriously.

There also needs to be a revolution in civic responsibility, he argues, "giving communities the power to shape their destinies, fight crime and improve the quality of life".

Internal reforms

Mr Cameron is, of course, not the first Conservative leader to call for a revolution.

William Hague's short-lived "common sense revolution", unveiled at the party's 1999 conference, also promised to slash red tape and free the public services from state interference.

But it failed to catch the public or the party's imagination and was quickly superseded by Kitchen Table Conservatism and, finally, with an election-losing appeal to save the pound and curb immigration.

Like Mr Cameron, Mr Hague held a ballot of the entire party membership within the first few months of becoming leader, with a more narrow focus on internal party reforms.

Despite receiving overwhelming grassroots support, Mr Hague's consultation exercise was widely portrayed, not as a brave new dawn for Conservatism, but as an attempt to assert authority over a divided and defeated party.

Mr Cameron is likely to receive a much easier ride - after all it was less than a year ago that party members backed him and his modernising agenda in the leadership election.

And unlike Mr Hague in 1999 he has, apparently largely by force of personal popularity, propelled the party from opinion poll also rans into current poll frontrunners.

As with all such occasions it would be unthinkable for the party faithful to do anything other than rubber-stamp it when they vote on it next month.




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