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Cablegate: David Cameron Uses His Party Speech to Define Himself and Rebut Labour Claim That Now Is No Time for a Novice

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C O N F I D E N T I A L LONDON 002496

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STATE FOR EUR/WE/UK NSC FOR BRADLEY E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/02/2018

TAGS: PREL PGOV UK

SUBJECT: DAVID CAMERON USES HIS PARTY SPEECH TO DEFINE HIMSELF AND REBUT LABOUR CLAIM THAT NOW IS NO TIME FOR A NOVICE REF: STATE 2451

Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Richard LeBaron for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).

1. (C) Summary and Comment. Conservative Leader David Cameron used his lengthy, sober speech to the Tory Conference today to rebut Prime Minister Brown's charge that "now is not the time for a novice" to move into Downing Street (ref). Cameron told conference delegates that in a time of financial crisis and emerging global threats "what is most important is not experience, but leadership, character and judgment." The UK electorate wants to know what a leader's values are in a time of unprecedented change, Cameron said, and he proceeded to lay out what he described as his core principles - the importance of family; supporting "responsible" freedom, a strong commitment to the British Union -- "I want to be Prime Minister of the UK, not England" -- and encouraging civic and personal responsibility as the keys to a healthy society. In the speech's best soundbite, Cameron told the audience, "we've had the experience of Prime Minister Brown's experience," and we "don't want any more of it." Cameron's effort to "tell you about my values" took up a large part of his hour-long address and he tied those values to the policy prescriptions he outlined in the remainder of his speech. Cameron was notably silent on foreign policy issues, other than to tell the crowd the Conservative Party "supports the mission in Afghanistan 100 percent" because of the repercussions in the UK if the mission fails and terrorists regroup to launch attacks from Afghanistan. There was no mention of Iraq nor the UK's role in the European Union in the address.

2. (C) Summary cont. Several Tory leaders told us that their internal polling over the last week found that Gordon Brown's jibe that Cameron was too inexperienced to run the country at a time of economic uncertainty had gained traction with UK voters. Cameron's speech was crafted to address that charge head on by highlighting the argument that leadership and values matter more than experience, and by turning Brown's experience into responsibility for the current UK economic downturn. Cameron's speech also highlighted how successfully Cameron and his team have reacted to developments outside the conference hall in the last few days. When the conference opened, the worry among Cameron's advisors was that the Tories would appear triumphant and arrogant about their lead in the polls. By Tuesday, however, it was clear that the financial crisis was dominating the political and media landscape and the Tory conference was the third news item of the day. Cameron's announcement yesterday that the he was putting aside "political wrangling" and his speech today recognized the focus of the UK public is on the financial situation while putting the Tories back into the story. As one political commentator noted immediately after the speech, "the British public should elect Cameron just on the basis of how well the Tories stage-managed this conference for optimal media effect, given how badly Brown's team has managed their own political message over the last several months." End comment.

Strong Support For the Mission in Afghanistan --------------------------------------------- -

3. (C) Cameron began his speech by telling the crowd that in the midst of financial turmoil, we "must not forget we are at war" and that it was important to be clear why the Conservative Party "supports the mission in Afghanistan 100 percent" -- "if we fail, the Taliban returns, and if the Taliban returns, the terrorists and terrorist camps will return, bringing more bloodshed and slaughter to our own streets." Cameron was critical of the Brown Government for failing to give the UK military the resources it needs to wage the fight, but said "there can be no doubt we are united in understanding why our soldiers are fighting." In contrast to Cameron's address to the party conference last year, there was no other discussion of foreign policy issues, other than a brief reference to the visiting Georgian Minister who had addressed the conference earlier in the day. Cameron made no reference to Iraq or to the UK's role in the European Union.

Financial Crisis ----------------

4. (C) Cameron repeated his pledge, announced the day before, to put aside "political wrangling" and work with the Brown Government to address the repercussions of the global financial crisis. In his only specific mention of the United States, Cameron said that that he "did not want to see what happened in the United States, happen in the UK," referring to the Congressional failure to endorse the administration's proposed legislation. The Tories will not shy from criticizing the government's response to the crisis when needed, "because it us our constitutional duty to do so," but the party recognizes now is not the time for partisan gamesmanship but for working to restore confidence and trust quickly in British financial institutions. Cameron did criticize the Brown Government for having created a culture of public and private debt, as well as weakening financial regulatory authority by removing it from the Bank of England, and said the Tories would address both issues if returned to power. Cameron's specific policy prescriptions to head off another such financial crisis included giving the Bank of England authority to "rein in public debt levels," a government spending review to reduce public expenditures, and "a targeted, three pence lower corporate tax rate" to spur economic recovery.

Playing to Middle Britain -------------------------

5.(C) In his specific policy proposals on domestic issues, Cameron played to the interests of the mythical "middle Britain" voter -- National Health Service, social breakdown, education. The issues that Cameron has used to "refocus" the party more to the middle of the UK political landscape -- the environment, protection of civil liberties -- were not addressed in this speech. Cameron, aware that many British voters still fear that a Tory Government will impose cuts on the NHS, called it the "crown jewel" of the British Government and said that the Tories would be "the party of the NHS," after the Labour government had "removed the soul" from the health service through its "culture of targets and directives." On education, he called for the creation of new private schools that would raise educational standards in all schools through increased competition.

6. (C) The Conservative Party is "not hostile to the state," Cameron reassured voters, and understands that the state has an important role to play in fixing what Cameron called Britain's "broken society." He called for more home health care workers to relieve the burdens on working families and acknowledged that many childhood educational programs are successful spring boards for "social advancement and success." But, Cameron continued, the state can not achieve social reform on its own - it requires the involvement of families, private institutions, schools, and charitable institutions, as well as a change in the culture of modern Britain. Cameron said he wanted to bring reform to social policy in the UK as great as that Margaret Thatcher had brought to economic policy. He pledged to make change in British society his "leading priority." He announced new rules for those receiving state benefits -- "to change the benefit culture" in the UK -- as well as changes to tax policies designed to support families and end the current "system that fails to reward commitment and marriage."

Change vs. Experience ---------------------

7. (C) Throughout his speech, Cameron sought to emphasize the need for change and contended that those who point to their "experience" in governing are least likely to bring "the real change" the country needs. One of Cameron's biggest applause lines came when he told the crowd that Prime Minister Callaghan in 1979 had the experience of holding several different cabinet positions before becoming Prime Minister, but "thank god the UK public swapped his experience for Margaret Thatcher." It is clear that Cameron has decided to position the Tories in the next election as the party of "change" and take on what will be Labour's political message -- that experience matters -- head on. Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX
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