Cameron hopes welfare plan to get milllions of people back into work has 'Obama factor'

Last updated at 14:15 08 January 2008

David Cameron

David Cameron moved to copy Barack Obama's vote-winning success today as he outlined welfare reforms that would "give people hope" and get millions into work.

In a clear bid to echo the Democratic presidential contender, Mr Cameron said he too wanted to bring a message of youthful optimism and change.

The Tory leader said Senator Obama's approach should be applied to Britain's welfare problems, where many people were languishing on incapacity benefit.

In a speech in south London, Mr Cameron said he was prepared to order the long-term jobless to perform community work and those who refused would have their benefit axed.

Incapacity benefit claimants would also be reassessed and those who could work would be shifted onto jobseeker's allowance instead. He stressed that he was prepared for the headline unemployment rate to rise as a result.

Speaking on Sky News today, MrCameron said he had been watching Senator Obama's rising popularity with interest.

"What's interesting about Obama is he is saying, 'We are America-we can do anything'. We want that same sense in Britain," he said.

Mr Cameron continued: "We don't have to leave 2.6 million people on incapacity benefit, we don't have to give up on people stuck on the dole.

"We can change, we can give people hope for the future. I think that's highly attractive in politics and I think that's why [Senator Obama] is doing so well."

The Tory leader said he had admired Republican John McCain for his straight-talking, but he also felt that Senator Obama was an attractive figure.

No 10 seized on Mr Cameron's remarks. A Downing Street source said: "This the guy who backed John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. Now he's switched horses again and even switched parties. As the Americans would say, the guy's a flip-flopper."

Keeping to the theme, Gordon Brown today denied he was the British equivalent of Hillary Clinton, a politician losing their popularity because they were associated with the past.

When asked at his monthly press conference if he was suffering a similar fate to Mrs Clinton and had had a make-over, he replied: "None of those things are true."

Unveiling the Tory welfare reforms in Brixton, Mr Cameron said the current headline jobless total was "dishonest" because it omitted thousands who were fit to work but claiming incapacity benefits.

The party's key plans are:

• Ordering the long-term unemployed to perform community work like scrubbinggraffiti and picking up litter. Based on the US "Workfare" system, those jobless for two years or more would lose benefit if they refused.

• Cutting benefits for unemployed people who refuse three offers of "reasonable jobs".

• Incapacity benefit claimants to be reassessed so that those capable of working can be put on the lower jobseekers allowance.

Mr Cameron added that "proper immigration controls" were also needed to tackle unemployment.

Chancellor Alistair Darling accused the Tories of having a multi-billion pound blackhole in the plans.

He said Mr Cameron had earmarked £2 billion of savings from welfare to fund a tax shake-up so would need to find £3 billion extra to pay for his work programme.

The Prime Minister also rounded on the Tory plans. "The Conservatives are in the old era, we are in the new era. The problem in 1997 was a lack of jobs, the problem in 2007 is a lack of skills," Mr Brown said.