...as his opponent preaches a more moderate message

He gently ticked off his rival for wanting to make tax cuts the centrepiece of the next Conservative election campaign, when experience suggested voters would not be impressed.

Mr Cameron's comments on public spending were calculated to reassure government and council employees that they need not fear that a Tory government would sack them. He spoke up for people who wanted to smoke in pubs, sent good wishes to Brighton and Hove Albion football club, and even tucked in a word of praise for John Prescott.

Mr Cameron's leadership campaign has been focused on giving the Conservative Party a "compassionate" image. It has been suggested that he is promising that he would be everything that appeals to voters about Tony Blair, without the baggage of the old Labour Party. His strategy appears to be working. Ladbrokes reported yesterday that the odds on Labour winning the next election have drifted to 4-9 from 2-5, with the odds on Cameron being the next Tory leader as 1-16, with Davis trailing at 1-7.

Emerging from a meeting with party faithful in the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, East Sussex, Mr Cameron criticised his rival's promise of tax cuts, saying that it did not work when the former shadow Chancellor, Oliver Letwin, made an almost identical offer at the last election.

"A dynamic and competitive economy needs low taxes but also good public infrastructure and public services," he said. "That is why I think the right thing is to share the proceeds of growth between tax reduction and public investment.

"I do not think it is sensible, four years before an election, to publish detailed tax announcements because we first need to know the state of the economy we are going to inherit. Also these proposals are strikingly similar to ones made before the last election. They did not work then and I do not think they are relevant now. I want to see the Conservative Party have a full-bodied economic policy. We want to be wise spenders rather than big spenders."

Mr Cameron also announced that he would not be voting for the Government's plan to ban smoking in pubs where no food is served. But on other issues, he seemed to go out of his way to sound like a New Labour politician, echoing Mr Blair's words of condemnation for this week's "dreadful" comments by Iran's President.

He also wished Brighton and Hove Albion football club luck following the announcement that it can build a 23,000-seat stadium at Falmer, outside the city. "It shows that, of all the decisions Mr Prescott makes, the odd good one can slip through," he said.

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