Davis seizes Labour's centre ground for challenge while Cameron pledges change

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As the shadow education secretary, David Cameron, also made his first formal pitch to the party, Mr Davis made it plain that the battle to lead the Tories would be fought almost exclusively on Blairite centre ground.

Echoing New Labour rhetoric to a remarkable extent, Mr Davis deployed several of the phrases that Mr Blair used himself in his keynote speech to the Labour conference in Brighton this week.

Perhaps the most obvious attempt to show his credentials as Mr Blair's natural successor was his use of the New Labour phrase "for the many not the privileged few". Many of the ideas for returning power to people at local level, getting people off benefits and into work, and the need for radical reform of public services were used in both speeches.

Mr Davis denied he was aping New Labour, but one supporter admitted that part of his strategy is to take back the centre ground from New Labour in order to widen the Tories' appeal at the next election. "Blair stole this language from us," he said. "We have every right to take it back."

Mr Davis said: "I want to build a new consensus for change, using modern Conservative ideas to achieve the goal of social justice that for too long have been claimed by the Left." He claimed that as leader he would stand for the shared British values that bound society - whether single, married, black, white young, old, gay and straight - to build "one nation".

His launch had the backing of more than a score of Tory MPs including prominent former supporters of Kenneth Clarke, and he appears to have the troops to take a commanding lead in the ballots of MPs before they choose two candidates to go to a secret ballot of the 300,000 Tory members in the country. The Conservative party announced last night that the ballot will close on 5 December and the new leader will be announced on 6 December.

Mr Davis is seeking to widen his appeal by claiming to represent One Nation Tories - the natural ground for his rivals Mr Clarke and David Cameron. One Clarke supporter said: "The idea that Davis is a One Nation champion is ridiculous."

Both Mr Davis and Mr Cameron signalled they would jettison the Tories' plan at the last election to allow the NHS to pay half the price of an operation in the private sector, provided the patient could pay the other half. The Davis camp indicated that their man would embrace a Swiss system for social insurance to pay for enhanced health care.

Launching his own campaign under the slogan "Change to Win" with free strawberry smoothies for those crowding into the Royal United Services Institute, Mr Cameron, 38, gave an impressive performance that may help lift his standing with MPs. Mr Cameron, an Old Etonian, denied he was "too posh" to take the Tories to victory. However, George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, appeared to try to cope with his image problems by introducing him as "Dave".

Speaking without notes, Mr Cameron challenged Mr Davis's claim to the One Nation mantle and dismissed as "rubbish" suggestions that the party simply needed "one more heave" to remove Labour from power. "The problem at the last election was not that people trusted the Labour Party. They didn't," he said. "The problem was that people don't yet trust the Conservative Party and it is we who have got to change."

In a frank analysis he said: "We have had a leadership election that has sent many people to sleep including some of those taking part in it. When [we] talk about international affairs, it can't just be Gibraltar and Zimbabwe. We have got to show as much passion about Darfur and the millions of people living on less than a dollar a day in sub-Saharan Africa while we get richer."

Meanwhile Nigel Waterson, the Eurosceptic MP for Eastbourne, backed Mr Clarke, underlining the former Chancellor's growing appeal across the party.

Where they stand on the issues

David Davis

TAXATION: Supports a low tax, light regulation economy. Says cutting taxes doesn't mean slashing state spending, but spending wisely.

HEALTH: Likely to drop NHS vouchers to private sector, may copy Swiss, France and Germany which provide mix of private and public provision of health.

EDUCATION: Could keep school vouchers and cites Sweden where parents have funds to exercise choice over schools. Also wants more emphasis on vocational achievement.

EU AND IRAQ: Eurosceptic, opposed to entry to the euro and European constitution by the back door, wants reforms to give more power back to member states. Supports Blair on Iraq.

ENVIRONMENT: Supports nuclear power review but says 'there are a lot of issues about costing'.

TORY REFORM: Supports more local campaigning, says Tories need more Parliamentary candidates 'in tune with contemporary Britain'. Likely to oppose all-women shortlists.

David Cameron

TAXATION: Says reducing taxation is essential for job creation; ally George Osborne studying flat tax.

HEALTH: Will drop Tory plan for NHS vouchers in the private sector. Supports opening up provision of NHS care to private sector, and make foundation hospitals more independent.

EDUCATION: Supports greater freedom for schools to manage their own affairs and 'greater diversity' of schools to choose between.

EU AND IRAQ: Opposes European constitution as 'a mistake', will never give up 'controls' by joining the euro, says that is 'probably written on me if you cut me in half'. Opposed to a pull-out from Iraq.

ENVIRONMENT: Calls for a cross-party commission on climate change to take it out of party politics and allow policies over 30 year period or longer.

TORY REFORM: Supports radical changes to party and Parliament, wants more women candidates.

Inspired by Blair? Davis speaks out

Davis: "I want to build a new consensus for change, using modern Conservative ideas to achieve the goal of social justice - opportunity for the many, not just the privileged few"

Blair: "We believe in social justice; in opportunity not for a privileged few but for all"

Davis: "By returning power to local communities we can re-invigorate democracy and transform the accountability of government."

Blair: "Give local communities the powers they need to hold people to account."

Davis: "Modern Britain is a non-deferential, largely urban, diverse country."

Blair: "The age we live in is democratic not deferential."

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