David Cameron will today try to tackle his “posh boy” image by promising to transform the life chances of young people who did not enjoy his privileged background.
In a speech to Conservative activists in London, the Prime Minister will say: “ I know the leg-ups I got in life. A loving family, wonderful parents, a great school and university.” He will promise to build “an aspiration nation” and “a country where it’s not who you know or where you’re from, but who you are and where you’re determined to go.” He will add: “My dream for Britain is that opportunity is not an accident of birth, but a birth-right.”
Mr Cameron’s background is seen as a potential weakness by some Tory MPs at a time when the Government is making painful spending cuts. Nadine Dorries, who lost the Tory whip last year, has described Mr Cameron and George Osborne as “two posh boys.” Sarah Wollaston, a Tory backbencher, has urged the Prime Minister to broaden an inner circle that looks “ far too posh, male and white”.
A week ago, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said in a wide-ranging speech seen as her putting down a marker for a future Tory leadership contest: “We have to become the party that takes power from the elites and gives it to the people, the party not just of those who have already made it, but the home of those who want to work hard and get on in life.”
Mr Cameron made “aspiration” the big theme of his speech to the Tories’ annual conference last October, but some of his MPs complain that there has been little follow-through since.
Today Mr Cameron will tell the party’s spring forum: “The global race is not just about GDP. It’s about saying to the mum who’s worried about her children’s future, we are building a country where there is a future, so your kids won’t have to get on a plane to get on in life, they can make it right here in Britain. It’s what this party’s always been about – aspiration. Helping those who really do want to work hard; and get on; and make a better life for their family.”
In what may be seen as a return to the “compassionate Conservatism” he advocated before the 2010 election, he will say: “We believe self-reliance is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean ‘you’re on your own.’ You can’t just say to the teenager who no one has ever believed in: ‘pull yourself up by the boot-straps’.”
Mr Cameron will admit: “There are far too many people in their teens and twenties who are right at the start of life – but they feel it’s the end of the line. No one’s believed in them. No one’s given them a chance. That’s what we are determined to change.”
Highlighting “aspiration” as “a big difference” between the Tories and Labour, he will insist it is not about “patronising people, patting them on the head and putting a benefit cheque in their hands,” but “giving them the tools -- the stability at home, the rigour at school, the opportunity at work—[to] finish the job and write their own success story.”