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Last Updated: Monday, 11 September 2006, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Cameron's neocon policy message
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

David Cameron's declaration that he is a liberal - not neo - conservative should not send shockwaves through his party.

David Cameron
Cameron has rejected neoconservative tag
Instead, the remarks from the Conservative leader will more likely be greeted with a "yes, we know" from both those in his party who like where he is leading them, and those who fundamentally oppose it.

Some of the more right-wing, Thatcherite elements may claim he is simply confirming what they already know - that he is abandoning what they believe are traditional Conservative values.

That was given an extra symbolic edge by the fact he spoke as Lady Thatcher offered her continuing support for President Bush.

In the process, his critics argue, he will risk alienating the White House - already worried about the Tory stance on Iraq, for example - and weakening the party's trans-Atlantic relations.

The modernisers, however, will embrace his remarks as another significant confirmation that he really is changing the party in a way that will chime with the British electorate.

They will argue that, because of his support for George Bush's foreign policy, Tony Blair has allied himself with those neoconservatives in the Republican administration who have been driving that policy.

Unqualified support

It is an approach that, they believe, is widely opposed by voters in Britain and even in America itself and which has seen Mr Blair labelled the president's poodle and, as a result, undermined his influence with other international leaders.

George Bush and Tony Blair
Blair has been criticised for closeness to Bush
The Conservative leader, on the other hand, who is currently ahead in the opinion polls, will maintain the special relationship with the US while being prepared to criticise where necessary.

Mr Cameron's balancing trick, however, is to keep his distance from the neoconservatives while not alienating either the president - who, in any case, is approaching the end of his term in office - or, far more importantly, the Republicans.

His predecessor, Michel Howard, appeared to anger George Bush with his criticism of Mr Blair's unqualified support for him and was even denied a meeting with the president in the White House. But he won some support at home for his stand.

It has taken some careful work by Tory envoys, notably William Hague, to re-build a good relationship with the White House since then and, they hope, pave the way for a meeting between the two men some time later this year.

To that end, Mr Cameron has emphasised his determination to maintain the so-called special relationship with America and attacked anti-Americanism as "intellectual and moral surrender" and "complacent cowardice born of resentment of success".

Simplistic views

"Britain does not need to establish her identity by recklessly poking the United States in the eye, as some like to do," he said.

Michael Howard
Howard angered President Bush
However, in a clear sideswipe at Mr Blair, he added: "But we will serve neither our own, nor America's, nor the world's interests if we are seen as America's unconditional associate in every endeavour. We should be solid but not slavish in our friendship with America..."

And he went on to call for new joint foreign policy with the US to deal with the age of international terrorism that moved beyond simplistic views that saw the world in terms of light and darkness.

Mr Cameron certainly has one eye on the way his words will be interpreted by the current and, more importantly, future Democrat or non-Bush Republican administration.

But his other eye is firmly focused on the message his first big foreign policy speech will send to British voters increasingly disenchanted with the government's policy.

And he must hope that, on this issue, he has put significant distance between him and the prime minister.


In full: Cameron on foreign policy
11 Sep 06 |  UK Politics
Cameron critical of US-UK policy
11 Sep 06 |  UK Politics
Thatcher urges anti-terror unity
11 Sep 06 |  UK Politics
Cameron criticises terror effort
15 Aug 06 |  UK Politics
Tories pursue meeting with Bush
16 Feb 06 |  UK Politics

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