David Cameron has signaled his confidence of winning the general election expected to be called next week, issuing a clear rallying call to Conservatives shaken by opinion polls pointing to a hung parliament.
“This is going to be the first time in 23 years that the Conservative party goes into a general election with a seven to 10-point lead. We’ve come a long way,” the Tory leader said in an interview with the Financial Times. “People are gagging for change.”
Mr Cameron insisted he was up to the “daunting job” of being the next prime minister, as he set out his vision for leading the country after the election expected on May 6.
The Tory campaign for the election will combine attacks on Gordon Brown, the prime minister, with more positive messages.
Mr Cameron admitted that the party’s “good and noble” attempt earlier this year to fight a purely positive campaign had backfired, allowing Labour to portray the contest as a referendum on the opposition party. A series of policy “wobbles”, and a narrowing poll lead, has persuaded the party leader to recalibrate the campaign.
“We started the year in a very positive frame of mind and wanted to literally spend the entire time putting forward our own approaches,” he said. “But you have to remember that every election is a choice and if you don’t frame that choice, then your opponents will only talk about you.”
The Tory leader signaled that his party’s pledge of a tax break for marriage, due to be detailed in its manifesto, will be modest.
“Obviously we live in constrained times so it [the tax incentive] will be constrained,” Mr Cameron said. “It’s always been more about message than about money ... and about the sort of tax system and benefits system we ought to have.”
Mr Cameron said that the Tories were winning the polling battle over economic credibility, the issue set to determine the election.
He stressed his determination to repel Labour attacks on George Osborne – “they are welcome to try” – while insisting that the shadow chancellor was “absolutely not” the weakest link in the Tory high command.
Mr Cameron scotched suggestions that he would prefer Ken Clarke to revert to his old job as chancellor, saying: “I think ... and Ken thinks [Mr Osborne] is the right person to do the job.”
A Conservative government would complete a “very, very quick” strategic defense review by this autumn, setting the parameters for the defense budget for April 2011 onwards, Mr Cameron said. He said that the “appalling financial constraints for the government as a whole” would not jeopardize the renewal of the Trident independent nuclear deterrent or result in Britain going on a “strategic retreat”.
Britain’s European partners will be “pleasantly surprised” by the approach adopted by a Eurosceptic Conservative government, Mr Cameron said. “Yes, we will be robust in defending Britain’s interests ... but we will be engaged,” he said. “They’ll ... find us honest and straightforward.”
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, will not be meeting the Conservative leader when she arrives in Britain on Thursday for talks with Mr Brown. Mr Cameron denied he had been snubbed, saying: “She’s offered me a meeting in the next couple of weeks – I don’t know if it’ll be possible to take it up.”
Asked if he was prepared for power, after more than four years as opposition leader, Mr Cameron replied: “I’m ready yes to step up to the plate and do what is of course a daunting job and many daunting challenges but ready to lead in that way, yes.”