Bruce Anderson: Inexperienced candidate offers Tories real-world alternative

There was a further problem. Everyone knew that young Cameron was promising. But many Tory MPs were not sure as to what, if anything, he believed. Yesterday, he silenced all those doubts.

David Cameron was in a quandary. He does not believe that there is some instant, radical solution to all the difficulties facing Britain. He is a Eurosceptic, but he is convinced that Britain has to co-operate with other European governments.

He believes in lower taxes, but he also believes in first-class public services. He knows that his party has to convince the voters that the public services will be safe before they will happilyembrace tax cuts.

David Cameron is a real-world Tory, who despises the radicalism of easy answers. Some fellow Conservatives would love to luxuriate in a warm rhetorical bath, promising slashing tax cuts and withdrawal from Europe; David Cameron is not in the business of feeding fantasies. So how was he to make his more limited proposals exciting enough to sway a mass audience?

Yesterday, he found the answer. He did so by force of personality and by a forceful speech. He spoke without notes. He made no concessions to Tories who might have disagreed with what he said. He told them that the party had lost recent elections because it was not prepared to change. It could only win the next election if it was prepared to commit itself to a Britain of the 21st century, and not some fantasy of a nostalgic past.

One point repeated throughout the speech was that Britain's hopes and glories do not lie exclusively in the past. We have had a splendid history, David Cameron told his fellow Tories, but there was more and better to come.

Over the decades, many Tories have seemed temperamentally attuned to pessimism. Even when they were embracing the modern age, they did so with stoical reluctance. There was none of that in David Cameron's case. If you want to understand modern Britain, he was saying to his fellow Tories, involve yourself in it and embrace it. Do not make facile judgements. Try to work out what people believe; where possible; join them in the new values which they are creating.

It was the speech of a young politician. But it was also the speech of an ambitious politician, focused on power, determined to force his party to make the changes necessary to achieve power. It was a formidable speech, and it launched a formidable leadership campaign.

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