Opinion: Could 'caring' Cameron be the real thing?

Nick Cater, a consultant and writer, catercharity@yahoo.co.uk

Young David Cameron has been putting it about a bit with the charity sector, both before and after his victory in last week's Tory leadership contest.

Indeed, a visit to a drugs charity here, a speech to NCVO there and a media interview featuring volunteering, among much else, all seem to be taking the place of the classic political poses of kissing babies, admiring farm animals and wearing silly headgear in food factories.

Inevitably, it is easier, cheaper and less politically risky for a 'caring Conservative' leader of the opposition to trot out promises and rhetoric about charity, volunteering and 'shared responsibility' than let slip hostage-to-fortune figures about taxation, pensions or public sector pay.

But a stroll through the speeches, websites and media mentions of Cameron D, Eton, Oxford and one-nation Tory toff, suggests that not only will Gordon Brown face someone a generation younger, fitter and less dour at the next election but he now has a political enemy happy to go eyeball to eyeball on social inclusion and much more.

Some of the charity chat - backing a level playing field for public sector contracts, long-term deals, full cost recovery - could be down to smart advisers, but there is something about Cameron that suggests a deeper commitment to the voluntary sector and the issues it tackles.

For example, you don't have to have a son with cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy to understand about disability, health needs, specialist education and the 'why me?' frustration of families often desperate for respite and support, but it must help.

Of course, one cannot expect a Tory MP to understand that when he urges economic liberalisation and asks us to trust companies, he has answered his own question: "What's it all about, this frenetic activity, the gruelling work, the manic shopping?" Yes, David, there is "more to life than money", but it is charity, not unfettered business, that epitomises the idea.

Yet anyone who sides with charities about overheads, condemns the Compact's failure and raises £8,000 with sponsored bike rides while giving clear libertarian hints that he wants to see drugs law reform, if not legalisation, and then declares - recalling Mrs Thatcher's revealing remark - "there is such a thing as society", cannot be all bad.

However, there is an ultimate, Brown-beating test that will win charity sector cheers: could this be the future Prime Minister who lets charities reclaim VAT?

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