BOLTON, England (Reuters) - Conservative Party leader David Cameron, with just over a week to convince voters he should be their next prime minister, is ditching negative campaigning in favour of outlining his vision of the future.
Caught offguard by a surge in support for smaller opposition party the Liberal Democrats, Conservative strategists are now advocating that Cameron present a clear and optimistic picture of what the party stands for.
Posters attacking Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown are giving way to new billboards showing a picture of Cameron with key policy pledges emblazoned next to him.
“We have 10 days left to inspire everyone in this country,” Cameron told supporters in a voluntary centre in South London.
Flanked by soap opera star Brooke Kinsella, whose brother was stabbed to death in 2008, Cameron repeated his thesis that Britain is “broken” by crime and disorder and said the road to repair lay in people taking responsibility for their own lives.
“I want to make the case for the values that should drive the creation of the Big Society — and the policy agenda that flows from those values,” he said.
“It requires, I believe, drawing on the deepest values of Conservatism, giving power to people not the state, strengthening families, encouraging responsibility, common sense and rigour, and applying these values to the key aims of improving the lives of people in our country.”
For much of last year, Cameron looked almost certain to take over the reins at 10 Downing Street and end 13 years of Labour rule. But a 20-point lead has gradually evaporated. Most polls now point to a “hung parliament”, in which no party has an outright majority.
Most surprising has been a massive rise in support for the Liberal Democrats, the third party, after a televised debate between the three leaders earlier this month that threw the once-predictable election wide open.
Critics are already questioning Cameron’s judgement for calling for the debates. Anything short of an outright Conservative victory is likely to jeopardise his modernisation agenda and bring out the knives for the 43-year-old leader.
But any strain is not showing. Cameron dove into the market place in Bury, a town in northwestern England, on Tuesday — grabbing people, shaking hands, buying cakes and black pudding and even kissing a baby.
Brown’s campaign visits, however, are more choreographed with supporters lined up to greet the prime minister, who lacks his rival’s easy manner.
“Yes, absolutely!” Cameron almost shouts when asked whether he still thought he could win. “Their (Labour) campaign is falling apart.”
The Cameron campaign is much slicker and better funded than Labour’s. He travels from London to Manchester on a British Airways flight. No one but journalists and campaign staff are on board.
Brown has been using the train to get around the country. Reporters following him get a packed lunch and some warm beer. On the Conservative trail, there is prawn cocktail and wine.
Nor is Cameron showing an outward worry over the LibDems’ leader Nick Clegg, who appears to have captured the public’s imagination over the last 10 days. “The key battleground is between Labour and the Tories,” Cameron said.
After Bury, Cameron’s tour headed to Bolton, another northwestern town, to visit a youth centre. There he was challenged to a game of table tennis.
He lost 11-7 to 19-year-old Daryl Hosker. He must be hoping he will he will do better on May 6.