Cameron puts 'social justice' at heart of campaign

David Cameron has launched another push to change the image of his party after a month of backbench mutterings and open rebellion.

Speaking at the Local Government Association's (LGA) annual conference, Mr Cameron attempted to put social justice - traditionally a buzz-word of the left - at the heart of the Conservative agenda.

He said: "As a country we may be getting richer, but we all know this: something is wrong with our society.

"Tackling social breakdown is the big challenge of our times.

"And I want it to be the modern mission of my party."

The speech marks a renewed effort by Mr Cameron to gain control of the political agenda after being forced onto the back foot by recent events.

A speech by David Willets, then shadow education secretary, which reiterated the Tory policy of not building any new grammar schools surprised many political observers by provoking anger and outright rebellion from the backbenches.

The row that followed seems to have marked the end of Mr Cameron's honeymoon period and many Tory traditionalists, who were previously content to grumble about the party's direction in private, began to voice their concerns in public.

But today, Mr Cameron returned to his familiar tactic of appropriating left wing figures and concepts for his own agenda.

He cited Tony Benn, the fire-brand Labour left winger who came to signify - albeit in a respectable manner - Labour's flirtation with militant socialist politics in the seventies and eighties.

"Tony Benn once said he wanted to see a fundamental shift of wealth and power in favour of working people," Mr Cameron said.

"Replace 'working' with 'local' and it's a contention I accept.

"This is a ridiculously over-centralised country and I stand before you a convinced localist.

"I don't want to localise power just to enhance the prestige of our cities," he continued.

"I want to do it because localism is the only way to deliver social justice.

"Gordon Brown's approach to social justice is top-down state control.

"We've tried it. It hasn't worked," he argued.

"On any objective measure, social injustice is greater now than 10 years ago.

"We need a new approach: bottom-up social responsibility."

Mr Cameron even stole Tony Blair's increasingly infamous description of Gordon Brown to paint his new political opponent as an unreformed authoritarian obsessed with state solutions to society's problems.

"You cannot mend a broken society with the clunking fist of state control," he said.

The Conservatives have regained some of their composure since Gordon Brown's first week in power progressed considerably better for the new prime minister than many of them had expected.

The public appeared impressed with his performance during the terrorist attempts on London and Glasgow airport, and recent polls showed Labour had opened up a lead over the Conservatives for the first time in 15 months.

But yesterday's prime minister's question time ended with what was widely considered a minor victory for the Tory leader. Mr Brown appeared slightly nervous at times, and even appealed for Mr Cameron to remember he had only been in the job for five days.


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