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Tuesday, December 06, 2005 

Cameron becomes new Tory leader - now he has to prove he is a new Tory.

David Cameron has then rather unsurprisingly become the new Tory leader -- beating David Davis by a margin of over 2 to 1 in a ballot of Conservative party members.

The race for the leadership was itself around as exciting as today's amazing tabloids revelations that Gazza likes a drink. Apart from the smear campaign that Cameron suffered following his conference speech over drugs, the race itself was almost entirely deviod of any serious political positions or policy statements. Instead it focused mostly on their different backgrounds, with Davis covering himself in an England flag as he told his tale of growing up on a council estate. Cameron tried to play down his somewhat privileged background, having attended Eton, and did somewhat succeed, although whether Tory voters cared about that or not is debatable.

Cameron now finds himself at the helm of a party with a 3 time losing streak. The last two of those elections were decided on Labour's economic record and the focus on the Tories still being the nasty and outdated party, focused on Europe and anti-immigrant fervour, with tax cuts which would have devastated the public services announced at the last minute.

Cameron himself, in the few policy moments which were announced or discussed, especially in his two question times appearances, did come across as engaging, charismatic and charming. I personally found myself disagreeing with him mostly, but I still respected his positions. The last person who has been credited with having such an effect on people was Tony Blair in his early years of Labour leadership. Cameron has already got a head-start on the drugs policies, as there is no way he could now came out with a clampdown as his past has been exposed. In fact, his drug policies seem saner than the Labour parties. He was on the committee which recommended that Ecstacy should be downgraded to a Class B drug, as it is undoubtedly nowhere near as dangerous as heroin or crack, and has few addictive qualities. He has promised to move the party towards the centre, making the Tories once again a challenge to Labour, and in the process revitalising democratic debate in a country which has come close to being a one party state under Tony Blair's direction. The defeat on the 90 day terror proposals has ended that, and Cameron should further undermine Blair's already lingering hold on power. The crunch may come with the education proposals to be published and legislated on in the new year.

This is where Cameron has to prove that he is different to the leaders that have gone before him. While Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard have all pledged to return to the centre and be "compassionate", they have instead drifted further and further towards the right, culminating in one of the nastiest and xenophobic election campaigns in years. Cameron has already suggested that he will support measures on which he supports the government, and not give in to knee-jerk opposition. That could well be his first mistake. While he may not want to be associated with helping the Labour left in defeat the government over Education, the facts of the matter are that the Tories want to go even further over Ruth Kelly's deeply flawed white paper. If Cameron is to prove that he really wants power, then he should oppose the government on when he thinks they are wrong, as they are on education at the moment. Whether they wish to go further or not is moot.

Cameron should also not abandon the Tory party's new found love of civil liberties, in opposing the government's draconian terrorism legislation, as well as the deeply hated ID Cards scheme. While there were more than distant murmurings from some backbench Tories over their position on the 90 days possible detention, he should recognise that true conservatism would involve keeping our hard-fought for the freedom, not diluting it and helping those who wish us harm claim victory. Another position that a new Tory leader would be embrace would be green issues and the environment - something that Labour is starting to fail badly on. Surely a conservative party would want to stop the country from being both being completely urbanised, and help improve the dire transport network. A good start would be to announce that the Tories would improve public transport, something which Labour pledged to do but which it has forgotten about. Also equally important would be measures that set out clearly what percentage of emissions the country can emit, and stick to them without buying so-called "credits" from abroad.

Cameron would also do well to listen to Iain Duncan Smith's thinktank, which has focused on helping the inner cities and not on the upper middle class which the party is obsessed with. Unfortunately, Cameron's PR past and his relations with big business show little sign that he will be tough on corporate excesses.

Cameron then is faced with a party that he has to shake into looking forward, while not forgetting the lessons of the past. Whether he will succeed remains to be seen, but politics may once again become something more than Labour announcing what they are going to do and then steam rolling it through parliament.

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