I'm a practical moderniser, says Cameron

The needs of society must come first, Tory leader tells Woodstock Literary Festival
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Indy Politics

He described the return of Peter Mandelson to government as "extraordinary", rejected any comparisons with Barack Obama, and repeated his belief that British society was "broken". But when it came to the banking crisis, David Cameron could not bring himself to say the "n" word – nationalisation.

In a wide-ranging interview at the Woodstock Literary Festival, in which he discussed his relationship with his wife and the reasons he started jogging, the Conservative leader came close to repeating Tony Blair's assertion that he was a "pretty straight kind of guy".

When asked why he had chosen to release his book, Cameron On Cameron, in which he discusses his everyday life and beliefs outside of politics, Mr Cameron said: "Politicians do political interviews all the time. The point about this book was to talk about life and what makes you tick. People want to know a little bit about me and I think that's fair.

"I'm a very straightforward person."

When the comparison with Mr Blair's assertion in 1997 was pointed out to him later, Mr Cameron said he had meant to say he was "easy to read".

He paid tribute to his wife, Samantha, during the public interview, who he said had played a role in his political thinking. "She is a brilliant artist and designer, and a great mum, and I'm incredibly proud of her," he said.

"We talk a lot about politics. On green issues, she was a member of Greenpeace long before it was fashionable."

As for the return of Peter Mandelson to the Cabinet as Business Secretary, Mr Cameron told a packed audience at Blenheim Palace: "I think it is pretty extraordinary. Someone who has resigned from the Government twice coming back – I don't really get it."

Mr Cameron agreed with the Government's £50bn banking bailout, but admitted it was strange for a Conservative to support a part-nationalisation of banks. "It is an odd thing for a Conservative to say, but it is the right thing to do," he said. "If the banking system is going to fail, you have to take all necessary action to save it."

He conceded his party had been too wedded to free market dogma, describing himself as a "practical moderniser".

"I think we became the 'economics party' – the party that believed in the primacy of freeing up the economy as the answer to everything," he said. "I want to put a strong society first."

Mr Cameron denied he had only adopted modernising views since becoming leader, though he revealed he had changed his mind on the issue of how to encourage people from ethnic minorities to join the Conservatives.

"My approach was meritocratic – to allow talent to rise and new people through the door," he said. "But the more I thought about it, the more I thought just opening the door wasn't enough. If you're a young black Briton and instinctively a Conservative, it's no good if you open the door and there's just a bunch of white people around the table."

*Chef Mark Hix will be at the festival tomorrow with The Independent's John Walsh. He will be joined by food writer Rose Prince to discuss what makes English food English and talk about his new book British Seasonal Food at the Marlborough Room, the old Blenheim Palace kitchen, at 4.30pm. Tickets £10. For information and to book, call 01865 305305.