Page last updated at 17:13 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

David Cameron promises 'radical reform'

David Cameron
David Cameron promised to defend the Union strongly

Tory leader David Cameron has promised "radical" reform if he wins the next election, declaring his party was back in the "centre ground" of UK politics.

He told the Scottish Conservative conference that Labour had failed in government, leaving an economic mess in its wake.

Mr Cameron also pledged to repair the relationship between the UK and Scottish governments.

But he vowed to oppose the SNP's planned independence referendum.

And he pledged to supporters in Perth to cut the "democratic deficit", not just the budget one.

The Conservative leader said if he won the election, predicted for May, his party "would not sit back, get comfortable in our ministerial chairs and enjoy chauffeur-driven cars" but show "radical reforming zeal" without a return to the old Conservative party.

"We will be radical reformers," he said, adding: "We won't just cut the budget deficit - we will cut the democratic deficit."

Mr Cameron went on: "Decentralising power - giving people the chance to make change happen through local referendums, giving neighbourhoods the right to run parks and public places, giving local councils unprecedented freedom to do what they think is right for their area, creating powerful directly elected mayors and provosts to bring civic pride and leadership to our biggest cities.

"Making government transparent by publishing everything we can online for everyone to see, the things government spends money on, the contracts it awards, the salaries it pays, the performance of public services.

"Making politics accountable by giving people the right to fire their MP; clamping down on secret lobbying; giving parliament back its power.

"These plans are seriously bold; seriously radical. I promise you: if we achieve even half of our ambitions, it will be the biggest change in how the country is run for more than a generation."

In his keynote conference speech, Mr Cameron admitted there were big differences between himself and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who is moving ahead with plans for an independence referendum.

Sorting out Gordon Brown's mistakes on the economy will be painful and we will need to get on with it straight away
David Cameron
Tory leader

The Tory leader said he would work tirelessly for the whole of the UK if he became prime minister.

"We must repair the relationship between the British government and the Scottish government," he said.

"It's a disgrace that during one of the worst economic crises in our modern history, when the foundations of the Scottish economy were rocked, Gordon Brown didn't meet Alex Salmond for almost a year.

"And it's shameful that during one of the most emotionally-charged moments in our recent history, when the Lockerbie bomber was released from jail to return home to Libya where he still is today, the Scottish government and British government refused to cooperate. That would not happen on my watch."

Mr Cameron told members of the Tory Party faithful that one of the first things he would do, if elected, would be to come to Scotland and meet Mr Salmond.

Mr Cameron also said he took seriously the recommendations of the Calman Commission - which called for more powers for the Scottish Parliament - and said he wanted to make devolution stronger.

Attacking his main rival, Mr Cameron said Labour's mistakes had left Britain with a broken economy and a broken society.

'Fairer society'

The Tory leader again warned of public spending cuts ahead, branding them "Gordon Brown's cuts" - but pledged to protect vital services, like the NHS.

"Sorting out Gordon Brown's mistakes on the economy will be painful and we will need to get on with it straight away," Mr Cameron warned.

"There will be a high price to pay for Gordon Brown's spending, borrowing, empire-building - all those quangos, all that bureaucracy, all that waste.

"How Labour can look the people of this country in the eye today and say they are the party of progress - the party for the many not the few - I simply do not know," he said.

Turning his focus on the forthcoming election campaign, the Tory leader declared: "The Conservative Party is back and it's back where it belongs - in the centre ground of British politics.

"The centre ground is not a vague place people cannot picture in their lives - it is their life.

"It's the school they send their child to, the hospital they visit their mother in, the family they nurture, the community they share, the country they love."

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