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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 18:37 GMT 19:37 UK
Cameron's family resemblance
Sketch
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News political reporter

You have to admire David Cameron's cheek sometimes.

David Cameron
Mr Cameron gave a typically polished performance

The Conservative leader has often been accused of aping Tony Blair's presentational tricks and smooth way with a soundbite.

But with his latest speech on the "importance of family life", the man who once reportedly claimed to be the "heir to Blair" could well have gone a step further.

Perhaps Tony Blair had been bundled into a cupboard by Mr Cameron's aides as he arrived at the Commonwealth Institute on Tuesday afternoon, in a last minute switch for their man.

How else to explain the eerily Blair-like quality of the whole occasion?

Rubber chameleon

Everything from the charity hosting it - the National Family and Parenting Institute headed by no less a figure than Alastair Campbell's partner Fiona Millar - to the cosy Q&A session with a group of young, ethnically diverse mums that followed, screamed Blair, circa 1996.

There was even, in best New Labour tradition, a corporate sponsor, Vodafone.

Ms Millar had resisted the temptation to chair the event but she was heard to remark afterwards that Mr Cameron was "just like Tony 10 years ago".

Her presence enabled Mr Cameron to have a little joke at Labour's expense.

Some poor, unfortunate Labour Party apparatchik had been bundled into a rubber "chameleon" suit, the better to hand out leaflets outside the venue slamming "Dave the Chameleon".

The flyers pointed out in lurid technicolour how Mr Cameron had voted against many of Labour's family-friendly measures, from paid paternity leave to the right to request flexible working for parents of young or disabled children.

Future policy

But the cycle-helmet sporting reptile looked a bit too cuddly - like an advert for a Day Nursery - to really hit home.

And no, quipped Mr Cameron, the man in the rubber suit was not Alastair Campbell.

In his speech, Mr Cameron was at pains to point out that he agreed with much of what Labour has done for families, such as the Sure Start family centres.

He even admired the intention behind Gordon Brown's tax credits - but he wanted to trust people to manage their own money more.

"One option would be to give transferable tax allowances to married couples - and couples in civil partnerships - with young children," he said, in a tantalising hint of future policy.

If all this sounded a bit dry, there were no shortage of eye-catching soundbites, to help the medicine go down.

"We should focus not just on GDP but also on GWB - General Well Being."

"The Tory war on single parents is over...the weapons have been put permanently beyond use".

And best of all "Britain's families need Supernanny, not the nanny state".

Not a plan for tax relief on Kryptonite, but a reference to a Channel 4 reality show - a better source of advice and information on parenting, argued Mr Cameron, than grey-suited Mandarins in Whitehall.

Underlying causes

The audience of young mothers - and a smattering of dads - treated Mr Cameron with wary respect, quizzing him on his attitude to workplace childcare to the need to address underlying causes of anti-social behaviour.

Mr Cameron avoided specifics for the most part, talking about the need to "big up" firms who provided childcare facilities and how the government should set an example as an employer.

But he did float the possibility a Tory government might give carers of disabled people a "right to respite". This would allow them to "go out to dinner" occasionally, or - in case that sounded too grand - "the movies".

And he spoke again about the "magic" of being there at the birth of your children. An event which, he argued, means you have truly grown up (although, he joked, he was glad he had been "at the head end").

It was a relaxed, chatty performance, with Mr Cameron touching a chord with some in the audience as he spoke about the rigours of filling in government for his disabled son.

Or getting a laugh as he was ticked off for referring to single "girls" who get pregnant, when most lone parents were in their 30s.

And there will, no doubt, be many more such events before the Tories prove beyond all doubt that - rather than eating babies - they just want them to have a better start in life.

I just hope they let Mr Blair out of that cupboard first.




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