Q & A with David Cameron: Why Britain Needs a 'Compassionate Conservative'

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TIME: In the past few days, Brown has several times quoted John F. Kennedy. But you're the one who attracts the comparisons with JFK and predictions of a new Camelot.

David Cameron: The person whose speeches I love reading and think was a wonderful orator is Bobby Kennedy, actually. They're just amazing. Some of his speeches were incredibly powerful. But no, I'm interested in American politics but I'm not — some people are obsessed, some people are obsessive about American politics. I follow with some interest but I don't sit around dreaming of Camelot.

TIME: It's supposedly the other way around: I'm told you're Britain's most sought-after dinner guest. People say you're recreating Camelot.

David Cameron: I read these things and they don't quite seem to reflect my life, which is three children under 5. Most of my home life is spent knee-deep in nappies and wailing children, so I don't quite recognize the portraits that are sometimes painted.

[The conversation continues later, in a cafe at Aberdeen station waiting for the train to Edinburgh. Cameron is offered a muffin, and worries aloud that he's fat.]

TIME: You're not. That's funny. Men don't normally say they're fat when they're not.

DAVID CAMERON: You should see the Guardian cartoon of me this week. It's actually very funny. It's a picture of me saying "I'm the heir to Thatcher. I've the neck for it and the tits for it."

TIME: You mention the cartoon of Margaret Thatcher. You've deliberately avoided claiming you're her heir or recalling that era. Then, this week, you invoked her name.

David Cameron: I wrote an article in The Telegraph to answer some of my critics, take them on, correct some of their impressions. I was finding it rather infuriating some of the things people were saying and getting wrong. To me, Mrs Thatcher, it's all a long time in the past. People are voting at the next election who were born after Mrs. Thatcher left office. It's an important thought. So I'm not trying to be the heir to anybody in particular. I'm just trying to do the job. But there are some important things to learn from Margaret Thatcher's success.

TIME: But this is a completely new era?

David Cameron: A new era, with new challenges. Margaret Thatcher was facing a Britain that was economically bankrupt and going down the pan, and she had to give Britain back a successful economy, which she did. But today, we face very different challenges. It's much more about social breakdown, the new environmental challenges, the security challenges. It's a different environment.

TIME: Many people would say that Blair couldn't have done what he's done without Thatcher having done what she did.

David Cameron: That's true. TIME: Is Blair's legacy going to be having made possible the more consensual kind of politics that you're aiming towards?

David Cameron: I'm not sure Blair is going to have that strong a legacy. He had an amazing opportunity. He inherited a growing economy, he had three large majorities. He had everything going for him. His problem is he didn't know enough what he wanted to do. All politicians since Margaret Thatcher have been struggling to define themselves, and I think Blair has been struggling to. Looking at it from the Conservatives' point of view, it's very clear now what our mission, what our role is, and how we achieve it. As I said, Margaret Thatcher's role was to give Britain back a successful economy and the chance to succeed in the world. Our role today as Conservatives is about quality of life. It's about trying to find that combination of a growing economy and a better society and a quality environment and freedom from crime. That's the "what" that we're trying to achieve. And the "how" we're going to achieve it is social responsibility, not state control, but giving more power to individuals and families and to professionals in the health service and in education and to local government — so what's exciting for the Conservative Party right now is that we're very clear about the what it's all about, which is quality of life, and the how we're going to achieve it, which is social responsibility. When you've got the what and the how and you have a clear view, everything else will fall into place. Does that make sense? It makes lots of sense to me.

TIME: Why are you up here [in Scotland]?

Because I want the Conservative Party to recover in every part of the United Kingdom and in Scotland we've been stuck in forth place and there's one reason why. Here we are in a prosperous city in Scotland, Aberdeen, with its amazing connections to the oil industry, a great boom down, yet the Conservative Party is still suffering from the pre-1997 trauma. My point is that every country in Europe has a sensible, moderate center-right party that stands for that mixture of enterprise and compassion and the Conservative Party should be that party in Scotland. And we haven't been but we've ought to be. So we're in Aberdeen and going to Edinburgh. I'm bringing the whole shadow cabinet to Edinburgh no party leader of any party has ever done that as far as I can see. [Gestures at David Mundell, sitting at the next table.] I mean David is my shadow Secretary of state for Scotland, so he's focused on Scotland, but it means all of the others have got to spend some time thinking right how are we going to help deliver this Conservative recovery in Scotland.

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