David Cameron – 2007 Speech on Liberal Consensus


Below is the text of the speech made by David Cameron, the then Leader of the Opposition, in Bath on 22 March 2007.

Politics is a trust.

In a representative democracy, politicians hold power in trust from the people.

It is not our power but yours that we exercise.

We exercise it on your behalf – and we are accountable to you for how we use it.

Accountability means more than standing for re-election once every five years.

It means transparency during your term of office too – the obligation to explain what you are doing openly and honestly.

When politicians betray the trust they have received from the public, the public loses trust in them.

And who can deny this has happened in recent years?

I believe that more than any other politicians, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are responsible for the breakdown in trust in our politics today.

I don’t need to rehearse the mistakes of Mr Blair.

Today I want to make it clear that I regard Gordon Brown to be the natural heir to Blair in the art of spin.

This week’s Budget proved why.

Now that the dust has settled, it is becoming clear that the Chancellor has not – as he claimed – delivered a tax cutting budget.

It was a tax con, not a tax cut.

He has simply shifted the burden of taxation in order to make a headline-grabbing reduction in the basic rate of income tax.

Elsewhere, his taxes have increased.

And like the Liberal Democrats, I am worried that the cuts are being funded by tax rises for the poorest people in society.

This is the latest in a long line of deceptions from the Treasury.

Gordon Brown has massaged figures, changed the economic cycle, redefined public borrowing, announced and re-announced spending, concealed his tax rises… all in order to confuse the public about what he is actually doing.

Well, this has to stop.

If we are to restore trust in politics, we have to take serious steps to improve the way Government does business.

Let me outline what we will do to ensure better accountability in the Treasury, part of our ongoing work to restore trust in politics.

First, we will ensure Government statistics are independently audited.

The Government have moved in this direction but not far enough – as the head of the Office of National Statistics has argued.

Second, we will introduce independent scrutiny of the Treasury’s fiscal rules, to stop the sleight of hand we have become used to from this Government.

No more redefining the economic cycle to stay within the rules.

Third, with the help of the former Chancellor Geoffrey Howe, we will introduce reforms to make the Budget itself more open and accountable.

No longer will it be possible for important changes – like Brown’s £5 billion raid on pension funds – to be sneaked out in the small print of an appendix.

With a Conservative Chancellor, the Budget speech will be an honest reflection of the measures in the Budget itself.

Fourth, we will strengthen the independence of the Bank of England.

Appointments to the Monetary Policy Committee will be made transparently and openly, and members will serve for fixed terms without the chance of reappointment.

And fifth, we will ensure openness about Government spending.

People will be able to track online the uses to which their tax money is put – giving the public direct scrutiny of what the Treasury does.

This is all part of our work to restore trust in politics.

Ken Clarke will shortly be presenting a report of his Democracy Task Force, with proposals which will make the government more accountable to Parliament and the public.

For me, this week’s events have convinced me of one thing.

You can’t trust Gordon Brown.

And today I am calling for all like-minded people – and especially those who have supported the Liberal Democrats in the past – to join me in a campaign to restore trustworthy government in Britain.

Liberal Conservatism

But the need for change goes beyond trust – it goes to the heart of what government does.

There is a big division opening up in our politics.

At the next election the decision people will have to ask themselves is this: do we want state control or social responsibility?

Labour – and Gordon Brown especially – want state control.

Conservatives and many Liberals want social responsibility.

So let me make a straightforward argument.

Gordon Brown, and the philosophy which drives him, will only be defeated if Liberal and Conservative supporters rally together behind an alternative government-in-waiting.

I am determined that the Conservative Party will provide the country with such an alternative government.

I believe that we need a new liberal Conservative consensus on our country.

Let me begin by explaining what I mean by this.

Then I will get into the specifics of what a Government I lead would do.

I am a liberal Conservative.

Liberal, because I believe in the freedom of individuals to pursue their own happiness, with the minimum of interference from government.

Sceptical of the state, trusting people to make the most of their lives, confident about the possibilities of the future – this is liberalism.

And Conservative, because I believe that we’re all in this together – that there is a historical understanding between past, present and future generations, and that we have a social responsibility to play an active part in the community we live in.

Conservatives believe in continuity and belonging; we believe in the traditions of our country which are embedded in our institutions.

Liberal and Conservative.

Individual freedom and social responsibility.

Gladstone, who reduced the tax burden and promoted the freedom of religious conscience.

And Disraeli, who legalised trade unions and empowered local government to organise civic action.

Liberalism and Conservatism – like Gladstone and Disraeli – are often in conflict.

But at a deeper level they depend on each other.

Without the Conservative stress on communal obligations and institutions, liberalism can become hollow individualism, a philosophy of selfishness which denies our loyalties to neighbourhood and nation.

And without the liberal stress on individual freedom, Conservatism can become mere conformity, limiting creativity and progress.

On many of the key issues, it is this balance which we need – not state control, but greater freedom and greater social responsibility.

Let me touch on four in particular – four crucial areas of policy where, I believe, the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrat supporters can find agreement.

ID cards

Perhaps most of all, we agree on the value of liberty itself.

I believe that, as a nation and as individuals, we have to stand together against unnecessary attempts by the Government to control us and number us.

Adam Curtis’s recent TV series The Trap powerfully showed how a limited, suspicious and cynical understanding of human nature has created a vast state bureaucracy which seeks more and more power over our lives.

One example is the restriction of jury trials.

Here, surely, there is common ground between liberalism and Conservatism.

Liberalism very properly objects to the curtailment of liberty.

Conservatism objects to the abolition of an ancient institution.

The latest threat to liberty is the proposed scheme for ID cards and the National ID Register.

The words “can I see your papers please?” are going to be heard in Britain for the first time since the second world war.

You can argue for ever about the potential utility of ID cards – though I remain to be convinced.

When the Government admits it has handed out over 10,000 passports on fraudulent applications, some of them to terrorists, you know the system won’t work.

The real issue, however, is that the scheme would only work if carrying a card was compulsory and enforceable by arrest.

That is a step that Conservatives and, I am sure, most Liberals would not want to take.

ID cards are presented as methods to control crime, terrorism and illegal immigration.

In fact, they are an expensive distraction from the real task of fighting these problems.

There are no shortcuts here.

We need proper community policing and real controls at our borders – there is no plastic alternative to these.

Public services

The second area where I hope that Lib Dem supporters will agree with the Conservatives is the public services.

I have said that we will make the NHS our top priority.

This doesn’t just mean pouring more money into an unreformed system as Gordon Brown has done, with a thousand targets and performance indicators attached.

I think the remarks by Lord Turnbull this week neatly illustrate Gordon’s attitude to the public sector.

He treats his colleagues in government with contempt – that means public employees further down the hierarchy are beneath contempt.

He simply hands them a Public Service Agreement and tells them to get on with it.

Our approach is different.

Social responsibility means trusting the front-line professionals who deliver the care.

It means freeing hospitals and GP clinics from Labour’s top-down targets.

And it means putting power in the hands of patients themselves – a truly liberal NHS, freed from Whitehall and accountable to the people it serves.

In education, we also need a liberation of professionals.

The job of government is to get the structures right, including the allocation of money and the basics of the curriculum and the exam system.

But education is about more than structures.

Everything that really matters, happens in the classroom – not in Whitehall.

The success or failure of a school is the hands of the men and women who work there, and the parents and the community it serves.

That is why I want to see a flowering of innovation and creativity in our schools system.

Of course schools must be held to account.

But they should principally be held to account by parents and the local community, not by Whitehall.


The third area where we agree is on the environment.

I believe in three elements to a responsible environment policy: government leadership, tax-based incentives, and market solutions.

That is social responsibility – the liberal Conservative approach.

It is not the Gordon Brown approach.

In the Budget this week he flunked this challenge again.

Of course, it is because of Conservative and Liberal Democrat efforts in Parliament that Gordon has now agreed to a climate change bill.

I welcome his change of heart – but I have profound worries about the sort of law he wants to introduce.

Rather than a vague and flexible aspiration to reduce carbon emissions, we need binding annual targets which will hold the government to account.

Only then will we reach our Kyoto target of an eight per cent reduction by 2012.

And rather than treating the environment as an opportunity for stealth taxation, as Gordon Brown does, we need to use the tax system to encourage the good and discourage the bad.

I have said that any green taxes should be replacement taxes, not additional ones.

Any tax rises we impose on pollution, we will balanced by tax cuts on positive behaviour, like business creation or stable families.

To me, climate change should not merely be a national priority.

It should be a corporate, social, local and personal responsibility too.


This leads me to the last area I want to look at.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrat voters surely agree on the need for more power to local communities.

Conservatives have always believed in the vital importance of innovation and freedom.

And usually this has translated into support for local government.

It was Disraeli who empowered town councils to clear the slums.

It was Lord Salisbury who created our modern system of local government.

But more recently we have not had such a good record.

I still regret Edward Heath’s redesign of the local authority structure in the 1970s which abolished some of the ancient counties.

I also regret that – provoked by crazy Leftwing local politicians in the 1980s – the Conservative government had to increase the levers of central control.

The modern Conservative Party is getting back to its roots.

We are determined to lead a renaissance of local autonomy and local activism.

We are developing proposals to free councils from Whitehall control.

We have introduced to Parliament the Sustainable Communities Bill, which will give councils the power to control more of the money that central government spends in their area.

But we don’t stop there.

Social responsibility means more than devolution to the council.

We need to devolve power further, to community groups and to individuals and families themselves.

To me, independent voluntary action is the best manifestation of social responsibility.

Some of the most ground-breaking and effective social projects in the country are run by social entrepreneurs – local people, like Dick Atkinson in Balsall Heath in Birmingham, who gave up waiting for the council to sort things out and did it themselves.

Of course, what makes a community is the individuals and families within it.

One of the great benefits of the right-to-buy revolution in the 1980s was the improvement that it made to housing estates: when people have a stake in their neighbourhood, they tend to respect it more.

That’s why I want to more home ownership, especially in deprived areas – and we are doing the policy work to ensure we can deliver this.


Let me conclude by delving into psychology.

Labour used to have a rather partisan explanation for why people vote the way they do.

They said that people vote Labour in hope, Conservative in fear, and Lib Dem in protest.

Labour when they feel good about the country, Conservative when they are worried about the country, and Lib Dem when they want a plague on both the other houses.

My leadership has been dedicated to abolishing that explanation.

We’ve had some help, of course.

Who now can vote Labour in hope?

Who regards Gordon Brown as a symbol of sunny optimism?

As his own former chief civil servant said this week, he has ‘a cynical view of human nature’.

Second, I don’t believe that Liberal Democrat voters simply want to protest anymore.

I believe – I hope – that they want to get stuck in, to contribute directly to electing the party of government.

But their leadership is split – some, the so-called Orange Book Liberals, want to protest against Labour, but others want to join Gordon Brown in government.

For our part, I want people to vote Conservative not out of fear, but out of optimism.

Unlike Gordon Brown I have a positive view of human nature.

But unlike Tony Blair, I base my optimism on conviction.

I know that we must take the tough decisions that are necessary for our country.

On climate change.

On the public services.

On foreign policy and security.

So there is a question mark over the future direction of Labour, though most people are understandably glum about the prospect of Gordon Brown.

There is a question mark over the future direction of the Lib Dems, between the Orange Book Liberals and what we might call the Brown Book Liberals – those who look forward to a coalition government with Gordon.

But there is no question mark over the future direction of the Conservative Party.

When I first said that my party would be more green, more local, more family-friendly, some didn’t believe it.

I hope we have shown that we meant it.

When I outlined a liberal Conservative approach to foreign policy, some thought I would retract it.

But we have held to it, and started to broaden and deepen in.

When I said we would be hardnosed defenders of freedom, some doubted it.

But we have stood up for our liberties, most recently by defeating the government over their plans to restrict trial by jury.

There is no doubt about where this party is going.

We are optimists.

We have the conviction to take the tough choices – as we have shown on multiculturalism, on family policy and on green policy.

We have a philosophy – liberal Conservatism – which has the answers to the great questions our country faces.

For anyone who believes in this philosophy, there is a home waiting for them in the modern, moderate Conservative Party.

Together, let us work to build a new consensus to restore trust in politics.