[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 October 2007, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
Cameron fires up the faithful
Sketch
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News political reporter, in Blackpool

David Cameron

It was almost like 2005 all over again.

David Cameron wowed the party faithful at Blackpool that year by speaking for 20 minutes without notes - roaming the stage exuding youthful enthusiasm and passion.

It took him from rank outsider to favourite in the race to be Tory leader.

This year the task he faced was immeasurably tougher.

He had to convince a party languishing in the opinion polls that they can still be winners - that they are ready to fight a general election that may come within a matter of days.

He spoke without notes once again - this time for more than 50 minutes. He warned the audience that it might be a bit "messy". It wasn't.

It was a highly polished performance - and a lot more measured, serious and policy-heavy than we are used to from Mr Cameron.

He once again tried to cast himself as the voice of optimism and sincerity - compared with the "cynical" Gordon Brown, who was trapped in the "old politics".

Setting

But there was none of the New Age rhetoric of last year's "let the sun shine in" speech.

He spoke at length about education, calling for a return to traditional standards in the classroom, more discipline and "setting by ability".

He set out policies to strengthen the family, including removing incentives in the benefit system for couples to live apart. He spoke of his own experience of the NHS.

Mr Cameron even addressed critics of his green agenda - saying he backed action on climate change not because it was popular but the "right thing to do".

He spoke a lot about common sense and tearing up the rule books and targets that make life difficult for "professionals" in the NHS, schools and police.

Labour were not bad people, he said, and unless the Tories learned from where they have gone wrong, they would not get anywhere.

'Fools'

But Mr Cameron poured scorn on Gordon Brown for making promises he could not possibly hope to keep, such as "British jobs for British workers", which he said was against EU law.

"If you treat people like fools, you don't deserve to run the country let alone win an election," said the Tory leader. It got one of the biggest cheers of the afternoon.

It was not until the closing minutes that Mr Cameron shifted down a gear and, moving downstage, began to speak about his own background and experiences.

Here again the contrast with Mr Brown was deliberate.

"I can not give you some hard luck story. I am the son of a magistrate and a stockbroker," he told the audience to loud cheers.

He praised the "warmth" of his upbringing and added: "Yes, I went to a fantastic school but I am not embarrassed about that. I had a fantastic education."

Then came the moment the audience had been waiting for.

Mr Cameron ended with a challenge to Gordon Brown to call an election.

"So Mr Brown, what's it going to be?" he asked.

Dirty Harry

His words contained an odd echo of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry - Come on Gordon, make my day.

But it was exactly what the party faithful wanted to hear. He told them to "get out and fight" for the changes they want to make and they cheered him to the rafters.

"I have been in the party for 10 years and that has to be the best speech I have ever heard. What a fantastic leader. The time is right. The Tories are go!," said party member Debra Murphy as she filed out of the hall.

Jason McCartney, a prospective Tory candidate in Colne Valley, could barely contain his excitement.

"It was calm. It was measured it was statesmanlike," he bellowed, sounding anything but.

"Put that in your pipe and smoke it Mr Brown! I will have a bloody good chance of winning now. After a speech like that. It was absolutely marvellous."

Another parliamentary prospective candidate, Mark Clarke, of Tooting, was equally effusive.

"I am so fired up to go back to my constituency. The guy is just fantastic. People are so up for it in the Conservative Party after that."

And, with a spring in their step, they went back to their constituencies and prepared for a battle royale with Brown.



RELATED BBC LINKS

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific