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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 October 2006, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Cameron plays it long
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Conservatives came to Bournemouth probably looking for two things from their new leader - a clearer sense of the things he stands for, and some idea of what he would do to achieve them.

David and Samantha Cameron
David Cameron was joined by wife Samantha after his speech

After a low-key performance at the end of a low-key conference, enlivened only by a minor spat over tax and the antics of Boris Johnson, they may well have left feeling only half satisfied.

There was plenty in Mr Cameron's speech about what he stood for - the NHS, the family, marriage, the environment, security and social responsibility.

And some of it was clearly designed to send out some core signals to his party and voters.

Notably, that pledge to put the NHS and the family centre of his agenda, to reject "pie in the sky" tax cuts that would jeopardise the economy, to go green even if it hurt and - once again stealing Tony Blair's discarded clothes - to be tough on the causes of crime.

There were a couple of sentences which sent distinct shudders through some of the delegates who, perhaps, feel their leader is a bit too far ahead of them.

His references to the NHS being one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century - it was introduced amid controversy by a Labour government - and supporting marriage between same sex couples received a mixed response, for example.

Change of gear

Other sections were greeted with delight - ensuring immigrants learnt to speak English and supporting the armed forces, for example.

But for those looking for a clear set of policies to achieve any of this there was next to nothing.

David Cameron at Tory conference
Cameron believes he has time

Mr Cameron outlined some Labour policies he would continue to oppose, such as ID cards, and repeated his pledge to abolish the Human Rights Act in favour of a British Bill of Rights. But that was about it.

It was not the passionate, free-roaming, gripping speech he gave to his conference last year and which won him the leadership virtually at a stroke.

But the change of gear was probably deliberate. Mr Cameron had been warning his party all week not to expect policy fireworks.

What he is currently engaged in is building a new edifice, laying foundations first and then erecting the structure, he said.

And after this performance his party can be in no doubt that they are now led by, as he said himself, a liberal - not neo - conservative. And the emphasis is very much on the liberal.

Give him time

There is an obvious danger in Mr Cameron's current strategy and it is the same danger that hung over the entire conference.

It is the danger of appearing to lack substance - precisely the criticism Mr Cameron has insisted he wants to dispel - and looking like it is all about the branding of David Cameron.

There was precious little during the week for anyone to get their teeth into and, as a result, the vacuum was filled with the stories about Boris Johnson and whether shadow chancellor George Osborne had described Gordon Brown as faintly autistic.

Mr Cameron may wish to take his time building his new, oak tree labelled party by first imprinting his own brand on the nation's consciousness, but many of his natural supporters are eagerly looking for an agenda.

Perhaps more dangerously, there are still those in the Tory party and its supporters in the media, who came to the conference unconvinced by Mr Cameron.

He may believe he has plenty of time to do the convincing - particularly while the Labour party is looking inward over the leadership issue- and that he would rather lay his foundations first in order to underpin his leadership and his party's eventual success.

He will have to hope his doubters are prepared still to give him that time.

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