> WATCH highlights of the interview here.
Sky News has just broadcast an interview with David Cameron conducted yesterday by Adam Boulton.
Here are the main points the Tory leader made (not verbatim):
Election date: It looks clear it is a May 6th election and I'm sure Brown will go to the Palace on Tuesday or Wednesday. The Tory campaign is ready to get out there and roll. This parliament has been a "good advert for fixed term parliaments" and I am tempted by the idea, though not yet persuaded.
The leaders' debates: I've always been in favour of them. They are a good thing, a good way of communicating with millions. Is it a risk? Yes. Is it a risk for me? Absolutely, yes. Am I nervous? You bet. You'd have to be unhuman not to be nervous. But it will be an opportunity to say what you would do differently and how the country would be a better place.
Expectation of the result: I've never said we will win, I've said we can win. I just believe we can do so much better than the current government and we now have a great opportunity, and I'm going to be working every hour of every day between now and polling day towards it. We're going to run a very positive campaign, that's why we started the year with positive reasons to vote Conservative, such as cutting the deficit but protecting the NHS and identifying people who've never voted Conservative before.
The style of a Cameron government: A Tory government would need to learn the lessons of where Blair went wrong, by putting aside the "tools of opposition" and rolling up sleeves to get on with the business of government. (He repeated some of the points he made in his Telegraph article yesterday about the values and character he would have, in addition to the policies - which matter most).
Would he work with Nick Clegg in a hung parliament? I'm not going to discuss that. I'm fighting for an overall majority. A hung parliament would be damaging for the country and the economy. We need decisive government and that's what we want to deliver.
This week's debate over National Insurance: It has been a "very significant moment", showing that the Conservatives have a positive alternative to stop the tax rises which are most threatening to the recovery. There has to be a balance between spending reduction and borrowing reduction and Labour have got it wrong. The Tories are able to be progressive Conservatives and stop what is a tax rise that will hit the economy, jobs and people earning less than £20,000.
Weren't all the businessmen backing the Tory policy on National Insurance all Tories anyway? No. They talked about the "risk to the recovery" of the NI increase and include a number who have advised Gordon Brown. "The idea that they are a bunch of stooges is insulting". Richard Caring, for example, still has an outstanding loan to Labour. I welcome good people from business wanting to make a contribution to public life and it is not a bad idea to bring people in from business into politics. (He refused to rule out giving peerages to any of the signatories to the letters).
Labour's failure to tackle inefficiency: Labour have identified £11 billion of efficiency savings but are doing nothing about them in 2010. Which business or family would identify waste but no go ahead and eliminate it as soon as possible? The Government should behave in the same way as every business and family in terms of savings; there would be some job losses through abolishing the ID cards scheme and certain government IT programmes.
The NHS: It remains my "number one priority", and I'm going to put it "right on the ballot paper" and campaign on it all the way to polling day. Any NHS savings from reducing waste, inefficiency or NICs will be available to spend on things that make a difference. (He explained again the new policy announced this weekend to use the money saved from NICs for a Cancer Drugs Fund to help thousands of cancer sufferers get the drugs they need. He also expressed concern about the growing gap between the UK and other countries on cancer survival rates).
The Gene Hunt poster: I'm a fan of Ashes to Ashes and thought it was "extraordinary" that Labour depicted me as Gene Hunt. It was a "very strange poster". People will be thinking it would be great if police officers were out nicking villains and arresting people rather than sitting in offices filling in forms.
God and religion: I expect to go to church on Easter morning. I always said I have faith but wouldn't say I have a direct line [to God]. I'm a fairly typical member of the Church of England but have all sorts of doubts and uncertainties and questions but have found it helpful in my private life. I'm a great fan of faith-based organisations in this country - they bring a huge amount in terms of helping the homeless, helping people find jobs, and looking after the vulnerable in our communities. They have a big role to play. The Papal visit will be a big moment for Britain and I would do all I can to make sure it;s a success.
In most of this 'Vote Conservative' series I've focused on policy (the biggest one is to come in part 10) but it's also worth noting the importance of the Implementation team being run by Francis Maude and Nicholas Boles.
One of the worst legacies of New Labour is that voters no longer believe a politician when they promise to do something. A failure to think policies through, constant reshuffling of ministers, a lack of attention to detail and endless reannouncements have fed this legitimate disbelief.
David Cameron has been determined to change this by (1) keeping frontbenchers in place so they master their briefs; (2) building policies on the rock of success in other parts of the world (eg Sweden's schools policy); (3) paying private and voluntary contractors by results; (4) limited Whitehall reform; and (5) by ensuring the Tories are better prepared for government than any opposition in modern times.
Because of the work of Maude's team, there is a business plan for every portfolio which sets out specifically what the four year objectives for each minister, what they will seek to achieve in the months after the election, what new legislation is required, what kinds of administrative action and secondary legislation is required, what kind of secondary legislation is required and how long these things are likely to take and how they will be measured [See this from Oliver Letwin].
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Oliver Letwin gave an interesting and under-reported signal about Whitehall reform during his talk to the ConservativeIntelligence conference two weeks ago.
The Party is committed to the following changes if elected:
In addition, it’s possible – as part of the Post-Bureaucratic Age drive - that Whitehall rules for approved suppliers will be torn up; that new non-executive members of departmental boards will be able to recommend that poorly performing Permanent Secretaries be sacked, and likely that the new Prime Minister and Chancellor will in effect work from the same Downing Street base.
> If you would like to buy a copy of the ConIntelligence guide to the Tory manifesto please click here.
There was a somewhat intriguing joint byline in the FT this morning with William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, and former Lib Dem leader, Lord Ashdown, co-authoring a piece about the need for the West to continue to take a keen interest in what's happening in Bosnia.
It was there that the latter was formerly UN High Representative - and his political adviser whilst in that post was of course one Ed Llewellyn, now Chief of Staff to David Cameron.
It got me wondering whether there is now a possibility that Lord Ashdown could yet find himself offered a role in a Cameron administration - in some advisory or ambassadorial role, or even directly as a minister.
For that matter, who else from other political parties could be approached about serving a Conservative government in some capacity?
Boris Johnson already has Labour MP Kate Hoey serving as his Commissioner for Sport.
What about Frank Field, whose contribution to the debates on welfare and immigration have generally found favour in Conservative circles? Or Lord Adonis, whose views on education and transport (the two ministries in which he has served) chime with the Conservative leadership (just today he was promoting high speed rail in The Times).
Or could any of the economically-liberal "Orange Book" Lib Dems be persuaded to serve David Cameron? The names of Somerset MPs David Laws and Jeremy Browne would probably be top of any list of those likely to be approached.
Is there anyone else who should be borne in mind?
Andrew Grice uses his column in today's Independent to report on the background to the "outbreak of the jitters" going on inside the party.
It comes after a series of opinion polls saw the Tory lead reduced to single figures (something which Tim considered here a couple of weeks ago).
Grice points to a number of possible causes:
The PoliticsHome poll at the beginning of the month certainly suggested that the downturn in ratings was a direct result of the change of policy on Lisbon.
I'm certainly not convinced that the last point is of any great significance with most voters and I fail to see how the second point should be taken as a negative: as Grice himself concedes in reference to Lisbon, "trust matters", and being honest about the need for austerity is absolutely vital. Unlike Labour, which, for example, used the PBR to plan benefit increases only to be followed by cuts the following year, the Conservatives are rightly telling voters that it will likely be a painful road to recovery. To say otherwise would be dishonest.
Probably the point above requiring most attention is the fourth one, about the need for greater use of the other members of the shadow cabinet and their teams. True, David Cameron is the party's hugest asset, but he must reinforce the picture of the frontbench being a government-in-waiting by doing all he can to ensure that his shadow cabinet colleagues get more exposure (although some blame for this can arguably be pointed at the media).
On the wider point of seeing a narrowing of the lead in the polls, I would assert that it is probably no bad thing: it serves as a reminder not only that the electorate should not be taken for granted before a single vote has been cast, but also that this election will be closer than some people have previously suggested.
People will have a choice between a tired, failing Labour Government doing its best to bankrupt the country and a fresh Conservative alternative. In other words, there's not going to be a Lib Dem government and any vote for the Lib Dems will only serve potentially to allow the discredited Labour administration to cling on.
Tomorrow's Guardian is reporting that Shadow Chief Secretary Philip Hammond - "increasingly seen as a pivotal figure in a future Cameron government" - is to make a speech in the morning which will be about embedding a new culture of efficiency and productivity in the civil service.
According to the paper's report, his proposal include:
The paper also suggest that David Cameron will ask senior shadow cabinet members to agree their future spending budgets "as a condition of being offered their departmental portfolio at the time of the election".
Read the full report here.
On AmericaInTheWorld I've listed the worrying weaknesses at the heart of Barack Obama's foreign policy.
Earlier this week, on the International blog, I noted Tuesday's bad results for the Democrats.
As Britain's Conservatives look across the Atlantic, what political lessons can be learnt from Obama's first year? Three stand out.
Be focused: Tories are keen to avoid the mistake of Tony Blair in coasting through their early years in office and so will begin reforms immediately. Deficit reduction and education reform will be two top priorities. Dramatic reform of corporation tax is looking a more and more important theme (see paragraph six of this Telegraph piece by Irwin Stelzer). But if they will be bolder than early Blair they should be more focused than Obama. America's 44th President has tried to do too many big things too quickly and there is a growing sense that he hasn't done enough of them well. Think of the biggest stimulus in US history, healthcare reform, Afghanistan, cap and trade, banning nuclear weapons, battling Fox News, making peace with the Muslim world, and a hundred smaller initiatives...
Reach across the aisle: Barack Obama has lost a lot of support of independent voters. This is for a variety of reasons but partly because he has failed to build the support of moderate Republicans. His attempted recruitment of New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg failed after Gregg objected to the size of Obama's stimulus package. Bipartisanship can't be cosmetic.
Promote experience: The new members of the real West Wing sometimes give the impression that they think they are starring in TV's West Wing. Embassies and foreign governments talk of a chaotic White House staff that is too focused on politics. The people good at running a campaign are not necessarily the right people to run the White House/ Downing Street.
At his press conference last week, David Cameron said that all shadow ministers would be expected to set out a small number of priorities for their policy area.
Today see the publication of the party's five priorities in government for health and David Cameron has just given a speech in central London in which he outlined these five priorities.
He also called again on Gordon Brown to commit to protecting the NHS from any spending cuts, as well as seeming to re-iterate his previously made promise that Andrew Lansley will be Health Secretary if he forms a government next year:
"Nobody is better placed to bring about this change to the NHS than Andrew. He has an exceptionally detailed knowledge of his brief, a cast-iron determination to reform and improve the NHS and a deep understanding of what the health service and its values mean for this country."
Mr Cameron also referred to the priorities as relating to "a Conservative Department of Public Health", revealing that the Department of Health will be subtly renamed (a pledge which, I imagine, comes with not insignificant menu costs).
So here are those priorities:
1. Create a patient-led NHS where patients are in control of the care they receive
Immediate actions to be taken to achieve these goals
Tim has already blogged on what Mr Cameron had to say about All Women Shortlists in response to my question about candidate selection.
Blair for EU President?
On the potential for Tony Blair to become EU President, he reiterated that he didn't believe that the EU should have a President and that he didn't support Blair in that role even if there is a President. If such a role had to exist, he would rather it were a "chairmanic" role rather than the "all-singing, all-dancing, all-acting" Tony Blair. He later said that William Hague had made the party's position on the issue of Blair clear and that he had himself always made his position clear whenever asked by visiting European politicians . The Mail's Quentin Letts asked what he thought a former leader like Blair should be doing. "I've got so many things to worry about, that what Tony Blair does with well-funded retirement is just too far down the list... I thought he was solving the Middle East? He could carry on with that for a bit."
On Lisbon, he repeated his previous commitment that if Lisbon comes into force, then new circumstances will exist and he would set out the position as to what to do about it then.Looking at the disincentives to work