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Has David Cameron finally found a message he will stick with?

By Peter Hoskin
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Judging by the extracts that have been released so far, David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative Spring Conference is about one thing above all others: aspiration. He will talk of a building an “aspiration nation”. He will say that aspiration is “what this party has always been about”. And he will celebrate three Tory leaders – Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan and Margaret Thatcher – for putting “ladders in place” for folk to ascend. Aspiration, aspiration, aspiration.

This, you may be thinking, is far from surprising. Politicians like to spray the A-word around – and, besides, Mr Cameron used it in his speech on the economy last week, and recently promised Tory MPs that it would underpin the next election campaign.

But there’s still something noteworthy about Mr Cameron’s recent ardour for aspiration. It has been complained in the past that he flits from theme to theme, never landing on one long enough to convince the public that he means iT. Indeed, I mentioned this in a column for ConservativeHome last year, using a particularly striking example:

And there has been inconsistency of another sort: even when Mr Cameron does sound a clear bugle call, he generally drops it soon afterwards. A case in point was the “don’t you dare lecture us about poverty” attack that he made against Labour in his 2009 conference speech. This was powerful, persuasive and overflowing with potential — and it has barely been heard of since.”

And this, as the weeks and months have gone by, is how it seemed it would be for his well-received speech to the 2012 Conservative conference, which also had aspiration as its central theme. Yet now Mr Cameron is humming the same tune again. Indeed, some of the lines in today’s speech…

“My dream for Britain is that opportunity is not an accident of birth, but a birth-right.”

…sound like an echo of those in his conference speech…

“I'm not here to defend privilege, I'm here to spread it.”

…which is progress.

The trick now, of course, is for Mr Cameron to keep on saying it such that people believe he actually means it – and go beyond saying it, too. As Paul Goodman advised recently, the Prime Minister should take himself to the places – from schools to housing estates – where “aspiration” and “opportunity” aren’t just written in speeches, but in brick and in the actions of people. That way, this message might just stick.


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