Page last updated at 19:57 GMT, Saturday, 15 March 2008

It's a family affair for Cameron

By Ben Wright
BBC News, Gateshead

David Cameron at conference
He's good, but he's not Hague
After a week in which television cameras were allowed in the Cameron home, the Conservative leader pushed his family friendly credentials in a speech to the Conservative spring forum in Gateshead.

Would he have notes? Would he bring the family?

Would he show us pictures from the Cameron photo album on a giant plasma screen?

Make no mistake. David Cameron likes families.

It's the message that has been drilled home during this two-day conference.

New policies - more flexible parental leave and more health visitors - are not, in the words of one delegate "wildly exciting" but are thought here to be a good thing.

He really understands why the audience might hate all this fluffy stuff about family

This is the era of centre-ground politics and even the dyed-in-the-wool, small-state tax-cutters who may have sneaked into Gateshead are keeping their views to themselves.

Before the speech, David Cameron glides around the Sage - the £70m arts centre that dominates the banks of the Tyne - moving from one television interview point to the next.

The foot soldiers have warmed to him and see him as a winner, although William Hague arguably wins greater praise among delegates, who adore his speeches.

David Cameron with family
Families do not need to have two parents, says Cameron
In the conference hall David Cameron reads from a lectern. The speech is heavy with empathy.

He understands why people hate anti-social behaviour.

He understands the pressures on families.

He understands why people are cynical about politics.

He understands why people hate corporations corrupting children.

And he really understands why the audience might hate all this fluffy stuff about family.

But he assures them that the theme is properly conservative. Fix social problems springing from failed families and the state could be reduced and taxes cut.

Upturn in fortunes

It's an argument that David Cameron hopes will burst the view that on many issues the three parties are indistinguishable.

He needs the party to have (using the current political cliché) a narrative.

The government has had a wretched few months but opinion poll support for the Tories had wavered in recent weeks.

New polls in the Sunday newspapers suggest a post-Budget upturn, but will this focus on family give the party a further boost in popularity?

And how will business react to another call for Cameron's Conservatives to sharpen up their act?

The whisper around Gateshead is that the Conservatives' fortunes really rest with the economy. If it goes down, they go up.

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Cameron's speech on support for families

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