Page last updated at 16:54 GMT, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Profile: David Cameron

David Cameron once described himself as "heir to Blair" - and there are similarities in the way he has used a small, tight-knit group of modernisers to force change on a reluctant party.

The 43-year-old also shares the former Labour prime minister's fluent television manner and easy way with a sound bite.

David Cameron
David Cameron has adopted a more sober message since the financial crisis

The son of a stockbroker, Mr Cameron grew up in Newbury, Berkshire, with brother Alec and sisters Tania and Clare.

After prep school, he followed in the family tradition and went to Eton and then Oxford, where he got a first in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

His Oxford tutor, Vernon Bogdanor, describes Mr Cameron as "one of the ablest" students he has taught.

He avoided student politics, but was a member of the exclusive Bullingdon dining club, famed for its hard drinking and bad behaviour.

He has always refused to speak about this and has consistently dodged the question of whether he took drugs at university.

But it would be wrong to think he was some sort of stereotype of an aristocratic Tory from a bygone age.

Indeed, a key part of his appeal has been his claim to be more in touch with modern Britain than his Labour rivals as he modernised his own party by embracing such concepts as climate change and gay rights.

Meltdown

His efforts to change the party must have been helped by his own background and experience working within Conservative HQ during their last spell in power.

Mr Cameron worked at the Conservative Research Department after leaving Oxford, briefing John Major for prime minister's questions and, famously, accompanying Chancellor Norman Lamont on Black Wednesday, as the pound crashed out of the exchange rate mechanism.

He then spent seven years as the head of public relations at commercial broadcaster Carlton, all the while attempting to become an MP himself, something he achieved in 2001, when he won the safe Conservative seat of Witney.

Mr Cameron was by now a married man with a family. His wife, Samantha, daughter of landowner Sir Reginald Sheffield, runs an upmarket stationery company.

They have two young children, Nancy and Arthur with another baby due in September.

Electrifying

Their first child, Ivan, who was born profoundly disabled and needed round the clock care, died in February 2009.

The experience of caring for Ivan and witnessing at first hand the dedication of NHS hospital staff, is said by friends to have broadened Mr Cameron's horizons, from the apparently charmed life he had led to this point.

He had been talent spotted by Michael Howard in the mid-1990s, but when he entered the race to succeed Mr Howard as party leader in 2005 few gave the young education spokesman who had only recently become an MP a chance.

It took an electrifying conference speech, delivered without notes, in what would become his trademark style, to change the minds of the party faithful.

A few may have had second thoughts, when in the early months of his leadership he spoke about how some young offenders just needed love (caricatured by his opponents as his "hug a hoodie" speech) and was pictured with huskies in the Arctic Circle on a trip to investigate climate change.

Tough times

At the start of his leadership, Mr Cameron was all about sunny optimism and "sharing the proceeds of growth". His aim was to decontaminate the Tory brand and get rid of its "nasty party" image.

He ordered the party to end its obsession with Europe and tried to reposition it as the party of the environment and the NHS, as well as recruiting more women and candidates from ethnic minorities to winnable seats.

He also cannily used the expenses scandal that rocked Westminster to portray himself as a radical reformer bent on cleaning up politics.

He was helped in his mission by many older, more traditionally-minded Tory MPs being forced to retire to make way for young Notting Hill Tories - as Mr Cameron's fashionable, Metropolitan supporters came to be called.

He was rewarded with big poll leads - but the financial crisis forced Mr Cameron to ditch much of his upbeat rhetoric, in favour of a more sober, even gloomy, approach, warning voters they face tough times and spending cuts ahead.

Despite his change of tone, and with the exception of a brief period when Gordon Brown enjoyed a bounce in the polls after becoming leader in 2007, Mr Cameron has ridden high in the polls throughout his time as leader. He will be hoping that translates into votes on election day.



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