Page last updated at 11:56 GMT, Tuesday, 30 September 2008 12:56 UK

Cameron offers temporary peace

By Carole Walker
BBC political correspondent, at the Conservative Party conference

It would have been extraordinary if the Tories had not changed their agenda to address the huge public anxiety at the global financial crisis.

George Osborne, David Cameron and William Hague at the conference
The Tories changed the conference agenda to address the financial crisis

David Cameron's brief but punchy speech had to tackle the jibe that "this is no time for a novice" and to make it clear where a Conservative party traditionally averse to state intervention stands in the face of the unprecedented turmoil.

"We believe in the free enterprise system - we don't believe in a free for all," he said.

After the political squabbling which scuppered the rescue plan in the United States, it was essential for Mr Cameron to offer to work with the government.

His pledge to put aside party differences to ensure swift passage for legislation to protect savers puts the pressure back onto the government to come up with its bill as soon as Parliament is back next week.

Change of tone

Everyone here accepts that the immense financial problems have overshadowed the conference.

But the economic focus from David Cameron and George Osborne, coupled with the recognition that they could be forming our next government, have ensured their voices are not just heard, but listened to.

The Tories are making a point of continuing with the rest of their agenda, though shadow ministers have changed some of the tone and emphasis of speeches to reflect the outside world.

The problem is that at a time when most people feel powerless in the face of the global financial crisis, they want the government to step in

Today saw the launch of the Tories "repair plan for social reform", intended to set out a range of social policies to address that controversial notion of "the broken society".

The shadow children's secretary Michael Gove promised to free schools from bureaucratic control, to create more academies.

He would give charities the right to set up new schools, parents more choice.

The shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve has taken on the health and safety culture that restricts the police...and promised to scrap laws that deter people from taking on criminals themselves.

Welfare reform will focus on ending the culture of welfare dependency, with benefits cut from those who refuse to join back to work programmes.

The principle underpinning all this is that problems will not be solved by top-down state control.

In a foreword to the plan, David Cameron writes "We live in a post-bureaucratic age where people no longer need to be told by government what to do - they just want government to give them the power to do what they want to do and lift themselves and their communities up."

That may be true in some areas of social policy. The problem is that at a time when most people feel powerless in the face of the global financial crisis, they want the government to step in.

Today David Cameron pledged to protect the taxpayer where possible and stabilise the system where necessary.

He also said: "We must not use this crisis to bury the free enterprise system but to reform it. "

The polls suggest he has more to do to convince the public that he would make a better job than Gordon Brown at seeing us through these turbulent times.

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