The shadow Education Secretary, 39, pointedly claimed his affinity with the aspirations of young voters in a speech coinciding with the first policy statement by his rival. Allies of Mr Cameron have repeatedly said the 65-year-old former chancellor is too old to take on the Tory leadership.
Mr Cameron said: "In an age where stability and prosperity are increasingly taken for granted, younger generations care just as much about quality of life concerns - the environment, urban space, culture and leisure - as the traditional policy boxes in which we have conducted our debates. I know this is how young people feel because this is how I feel."
The Conservative leadership contender said "quality of life" issues should influence all the party's policies, as they were at the forefront of voters' concerns.
Mr Cameron broke his family holiday in Devon to deliver the speech, calling for tax relief on child care and a new generation of civil leaders to end the flight from Britain's cities. He said: "To reconnect with younger generations, and the electorate as a whole, we need to recognise that for people today the quality of life matters just as much as the quality of money. So we should have a simple test for all our policy thinking: will it make Britain a more civilised place to live?" He continued: "Rising crime, falling educational standards, and the sheer squalor, ugliness and degradation of far too many parts of urban Britain are wrecking the quality of life for many families". He insisted that the Conservative Party "cannot simply consist of opposing development in the countryside", but must fight for low-cost housing and starter homes.
He wanted a radical transfer of power to local authorities. "I want to see a new generation of visionary civic leaders with more freedom for local authorities for local communities to shape their public spaces."
The party should do more to appeal to young families, he said, calling for policies to make child care more affordable by introducing tax relief. "A serious coherent Conservative response cannot just be to argue that a woman's place is in the home or that the Government has no business meddling in this matters."
Mr Cameron said the Tories had failed to articulate an "inspiring vision" for Britain under a Conservative government and argued for a new theme of "family, community, country".
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