Cameron: Thatcher was right on role of government

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Indy Politics

David Cameron tried to calm his right-wing critics yesterday by insisting that his views on strong government were no different to those of Margaret Thatcher. He told a conference of senior Tories: "It was Margaret Thatcher who said: 'Never call me laissez-faire. Government must be strong to do those things which only government can do.' That's what I think too."

He also claimed that the next general election will be about "a defining contrast between the Conservative Party led by me standing for social responsibility and the Labour Party led by Gordon Brown standing for state control."

His remarks, at a Tory conference on social responsibility, represent an abrupt turnabout by Mr Cameron, who has warned the party that it must ditch old Thatcherite themes, like low taxation, private healthcare, grammar schools and hostility to Europe.

But he has come under pressure from the party faithful who still believe in the core Thatcherite message, and from the rise of the UK Independence Party. Two of the party's biggest donors have threatened to defect to Ukip. Stuart Wheeler, the spread-betting magnate, warned that his support for the Tories was "in doubt" because Mr Cameron had "not been nearly strong enough on Europe". The former Tory treasurer, Lord Kalms,told yesterday's Daily Telegraph that "the option remains open for me to vote Ukip".

Last week, two Tory peers, Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Lord Willoughby de Broke, announced their defection to Ukip.

Mr Cameron said the next Tory government would opt out of the European Social Chapter. But this provoked a scathing response from the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage: "Britain cannot just 'opt-out' of the Social Chapter because it's now part of the Treaty of Amsterdam and fully enshrined in EU law, which the Conservative Party is fully committed to."

In an article for The Independent in October 2005, Mr Cameron wrote: "We have to show, sincerely, that we do think there's such a thing as society - it's just not the same thing as the state."

This contradicted Mrs Thatcher's famous assertion that "there is no such thing as society".