David Cameron firmly staked out his claim to the centre ground of British politics with a "sunshine" message to his party that they will win the next general election if they are prepared to change.
In an upbeat speech at the start of his party's annual conference - his first as leader - Mr Cameron brushed aside recent polls showing the Tory lead over Labour had collapsed and urged them to believe they could win. "Let sunshine win the day," he said.
Mr Cameron warned the party that they had to change to become electable again, and in a thinly veiled attack on Lord Tebbit, who led calls yesterday for big tax cuts, cautioned the party against a return to the right-wing policies that had cast them into the wilderness.
He used a theme of "social responsibility" to mark out the centre ground on which he intends to fight the next election, saying: "We need people, families, communities, businesses to step up to the plate and understand it's not just about [the state] stopping the bad things. It's about actively doing the good things."
In a co-ordinated campaign, the Conservative Party leader's call for change was reinforced by the former leader William Hague and a former leadership rival, David Davis. Both men used their conference speeches to urge the party members in the country to accept the leadership strategy which was, nevertheless, attacked as "puerile" by Lord Tebbit.
Mr Cameron said: "Our party's history tells us the ground on which political success is built - it is the centre ground. The solid ground where people are.
"The centre ground is where you find the concerns, the hopes and dreams of most people and families in this country."
He also linked his strategy to Margaret Thatcher's success in 1979, saying the public then wanted a government to tame the unions, rescue the economy and restore pride in Britain, all of which she did.
Ignoring polls showing that his lead over Labour had been eroded in a month, Mr Cameron delivered an upbeat message to his party to prepare for victory: "Let us show clearly which side we are on. Let optimism beat pessimism. Let sunshine win the day."
Earlier, he warned bluntly that he would not be "pushed about" over calls by the right wing for tax cuts. The calls will be stepped up today by John Redwood, a senior adviser to the Tory leader, with a pamphlet setting out the case for cuts in personal taxation and the taxes on business. A tax reform review chaired by Lord Forsyth to be published this month will call for cuts in spending and taxes totalling £19bn.
Allies of Mr Redwood said last night that neither he nor Lord Forsyth would have been appointed to carry out policy reviews if Mr Cameron thought their support for tax cuts was unacceptable. They believe Mr Cameron has left himself enough room to back tax cuts at the next election.
"They are acting as outriders for Cameron," said a friend of Mr Redwood.
Mr Cameron appeared to support this on BBC1's Sunday AM when he said his "instinct" was to cut inheritance tax and corporate taxation, if conditions were right. "I think taxes have been pushed up too high and we've got Gordon Brown's foot pressing on the windpipe of the economy and we're in danger of having an uncompetitive tax regime and businesses are going to locate in other parts of the world," he said.
Tory leaders are hoping before the election they can win over the support of media owned by Rupert Murdoch, who has criticised Mr Cameron for not being more explicit about tax cuts.
He said: "I'm just not going to be pushed about on this ... stability comes first. Those who say, 'I want tax cuts and I want them now,' they can't have them."
He told conference: "We will not win, nor deserve to win, without a clear purpose and a proper plan. We must learn from Labour's big mistake - when Tony Blair won his first election he had only one clear purpose, to win a second term. We won't make the same mistake."
In a hint that he will begin to fill in some of the policy gaps that have frustrated traditional Tories, he added: "On Wednesday, the last day of our conference, I want to talk in detail about the important issues we face as a nation and what our response will be."
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