Cameron says family support good for economy

GATESHEAD (Reuters) - Conservative Leader David Cameron pledged extra help for young families on Saturday in a bid to improve his party’s appeal to new mothers and fathers.

Leader of the opposition Conservative Party David Cameron speaks at a news conference in London December 3, 2007. Cameron will pledge extra help for young families on Saturday, in a bid to extend his opposition party's reach while resisting traditional Tory calls for further cuts in taxes. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

Cameron, seeking to build support ahead of local elections in May, was given a welcome boost when the latest ICM poll for Sunday’s News of the World showed the Conservatives with a commanding nine-point lead over Labour.

In a post-budget snapshot of the voters’ mood, the ICM poll put the Conservatives on 40 percent, Labour on 31 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 20 percent.

In his speech to activists at the party’s spring conference in Gateshead, Cameron argued that preventing family breakdown and its attendant social costs would also have benefits for the wider economy.

“If we Conservatives are serious when we say we want a smaller state and lower taxes, we have to have a serious plan for making it happen,” he said.

“The truth is this -- you won’t end up with sustainably lower taxes unless you cut the real costs of government.

“And the real costs of government are the social problems that cause public spending, and the state, to grow and grow.”

Labour accused Cameron of posturing on family policies, saying he had in the past damned the government’s introduction of parental leave as “political correctness.”

It said Cameron’s championing of a “family friendly Britain” was in response to internal Conservative polling that showed that people moved away from the Tories once they had children.

A leaked internal Conservative Party presentation, published by the Daily Telegraph, said the party needed to improve its credibility among families.

Cameron told party activists that a future Conservative government would increase the number of health visitors in England by 50 percent to ensure that every expectant and new mother received regular support at home.

The cost of 4,200 more health visitors would be met by re-allocating 200 million pounds of funds targeted by government “outreach workers” under its Sure Start programme of pre-school childcare.

The appeal to young families followed a Tory commitment on Friday to allow new mothers and fathers to take time off work together after a birth to ease the burden of early childcare.

The focus on family-friendly policies was well received by delegates who said they accepted that the party was unlikely to campaign on the traditional Conservative pledge of tax cuts.

“The core Tory voter has always believed in the family. What the party is trying to do is reach out to those people who have not necessarily been our core voters,” said Philip Owen, a councillor at Nottinghamshire County Council.

Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has said he would have little room for extra vote-winning tax cuts should his party win power because of the high level of government borrowing.

Osborne has committed himself to maintaining Labour’s spending plans till 2011 should he become the next chancellor.