In his first party conference speech as Tory leader, David Cameron unveiled his vision of modern, compassionate Conservatism - by calling on tradition, says Political Editor Jonathan Walker

David Cameron offered his new modern Conservative Party to the nation with a surprisingly traditional pledge - to support families and marriage.

In his speech to the Conservative faithful, he made it clear the Tories would fight the next election on the centre ground with a focus on public services, the environment and crime.

In a bid to present the Conservatives as the party of the NHS, he launched a campaign against cuts and redundancies at hospitals across the country.

And he called for measures to promote "community cohesion", by ensuring every school taught children to be proud of a British identity.

Mr Cameron delivered an intensely personal speech, highlighting his family's reliance on the NHS, and his grandfather's role in the invasion of Normandy in 1944.

He said every policy would need to pass a "family test" before it could be adopted by the Tories.

With his wife, Samantha, looking on, Mr Cameron said society was stronger when two people pledged to stick together "through thick and thin".

The focus on marriage bought the Tories back on to ground it had avoided since John Major's disastrous "back to basics" campaign in 1993, which was derailed by a series of scandals.

But in keeping with the "modern, compassionate Conservatism" Mr Cameron represents, he said marriage mattered just as much whether it was between a man and a woman or a homosexual couple.

He said: "If marriage rates went up, if divorce rates came down - if more couples stayed together for longer, would our society be better off? My answer is yes."

Government could not "engineer happy families" but it could encourage marriage by promoting flexible working, family centres and relationship advice as well as recognising it in the tax system, he said.

In many sections of the speech, Mr Cameron appeared to take on Tony Blair's mantle.

He announced that, just as the Prime Minister had promised in opposition, he would be "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime".

While Mr Blair had pledged to devote himself to "education, education, education", Mr Cameron portrayed himself as the champion of the NHS.

But the Conservative leader also admitted the flaw in his approach - that the public was sick of the original Mr Blair, and unlikely to want an imitation.

The "energetic young party leader" who addressed Labour's annual conference in 1994 had let the country down, said Mr Cameron.

He warned his party: "Let's not think that people are going to jump from Labour straight into our arms.

"This is going to be slow, patient, hard work. We have to show, day by day, week by week, month by month, that we deserve our country's trust."

The longest section of the speech was devoted to one of the Conservative Party's biggest weaknesses - its stewardship of the health service.

Mr Cameron set out to prove his party can be trusted to run the NHS with a statement of his own personal commitment to the values it represents.

He said: "The NHS is vitally important to every family in this country. It certainly is to my family.

"I believe that the creation of the NHS is one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century. It is founded on the noble but simple ideal that no person should ever have to worry about their healthcare.

"But it's about more than that. The NHS is an expression of our values as a nation."

He promised an end to "pointless re-organisation" in the health service, following years of reforms to primary care trusts and health authorities.

Mr Cameron also addressed the debate over taxation, praising his "brilliant" shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, who has ruled out promises of tax cuts.

He said: "We will not take risks with the economy. We will not make promises we can't keep."

And he pledged to end Tony Blair's style of "sofa government", in which decisions are made by an informal group of the Prime Minister's allies instead of by the Cabinet.

"I will restore the proper style of Government," said Mr Cameron.

He tackled criticisms from Labour that he lacked "substance" by insisting: "Real substance is about taking time to think things through, not trotting out easy answers that people want to hear."

But Mr Cameron did set out some specific policies, including keeping and increasing the minimum wage, setting binding targets for carbon emissions, building more houses and flats, replacing the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights, and saving special schools from closure.

He also warned that areas of Britain were becoming divided on ethnic and religious lines.

He spoke of "communities where people from different ethnic origins never meet, never talk, never go to each others' homes."

New immigrants should be taught to speak English.