Cameron steps into Tory leadership battle

David Cameron emerged as the key challenger to David Davis in the race for the Conservative Party leadership. Mr Cameron, 38, confirmed that a keynote speech on reforming state education was part of his campaign to win the leadership.

"I'm putting forward my ideas. If people like my approach and the policies I'm talking about then I should put myself forward," he said on the BBC Today programme.

Mr Cameron, who is seen by many Tory MPs as the preferred choice of Michael Howard to succeed him as the leader of the Conservative Party, faced an immediate whispering campaign by senior MPs.

"He will come a respectable second to David Davis," said a member of the 1922 Executive. "The view is that he's very articulate, and enthusiastic but too young. He needs to spend another five years in the trenches and will then be a shoo-in."

In a move widely seen as an attempt to stop the Cameron campaign gaining a bandwagon over the coming months, supporters of Iain Duncan Smith were said to have written to Sir Michael Spicer, chairman of the 1922 Committee, calling for a no-confidence vote in Mr Howard.

Their aim is to force Mr Howard to stand down and hold an early contest, which could assist Mr Davis. However, senior MPs said they did not have enough support to succeed. They require 30 names to call a no-confidence vote but they would need 100 Tory MPs to win the vote. "They may be pretty thick, but even they must have worked out that if they get the 30 names, they need 100 people backing it. There is no way that 100 people are going to vote down Michael," said one Tory MP.

In a pitch to the modernising wing of the Tory Party, Mr Cameron focused on the centre ground on education by calling for reforms to state education, rather than repeating the election policy for allowing parents to opt for private schools.

He was given the platform by the modernising Tory think tank, Policy Exchange, led by Francis Maude until he was appointed by Mr Howard as chairman of the Conservative Party to succeed Liam Fox, after the election.

"Politicians need to set out what they believe in, what their goals are, and what their compass will be. If you don't and if you don't stick to them you will get buffeted from one issue to another," said Mr Cameron.

"The principles I want to follow are clear: that a good education is a birthright for all; that discipline is the first requirement for every school; that the basics of reading, writing and numeracy are the vital building blocks for every child."

Mr Cameron, who has a seriously handicapped child, has also won popular support for his campaign to repeal the merging of classes for special needs pupils with other children.

The Education Minister Lord Adonis responded last week by announcing a Government audit of its policy on special schools, but yesterday Mr Cameron attacked it as "limited and opaque".

He said that it would not cover special schools for children with learning difficulties. "The audit should cover all special schools, should listen to parents, should look at the bias in the law and it should be open in its details and remit."

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