It's his first party conference as Conservative leader and Dave Cameron was all too eager to tell Political Editor Jonathan Walker about his achievements since taking charge of the Tories

David Cameron is looking relaxed in his Bournemouth cottage.

He has already made one speech to activists at the Conservative Party conference and will deliver another tomorrow.

But yesterday he was holding court and The Birmingham Post was in attendance.

The Highcliff Mariott hotel, where Mr Cameron is staying, offers more than just a room to its top guests.

They stay in their own two-storey cottage, complete with a plush living room upstairs. It is here that we are summoned to meet the Conservative leader.

Mr Cameron apologises for breaking with tradition and kicking the conference off on Sunday, complete with a speech from the party's special guest, US Senator and potential presidential candidate John McCain.

"I hoped you liked Sunday - sorry for wrecking your weekend. The idea was to get together and have a big speaker on a Sunday to get the whole thing off with a bang."

Then he is off into what he is achieved over the past ten months since becoming party leader, including bringing the Conservative Party back into the centre ground.

Social responsibility

The Tories are focusing on issues such as health, education, the environment and law and order, he said.

"We are getting on to the mainstream topics rather than banging on about Europe or whatever. That is part of confirming that move that has been going on for ten months.

"The second thing is saying that while we are on the centre ground we have a clear mission, and that is all about social responsibility.

"What can we do to give parents more responsibility for bringing up their children? What can we do to give teachers and doctors more professional responsibility to run schools and hospitals?

"What can we do to give local government more civic responsibility to solve problems in their own areas? What can we do to give companies more corporate responsibility to tackle environmental challenges and the work-life balance?

"Real substance isn't a ten-point policy plan or a package of interesting measures. Real substance is an idea that unites your party and gives you a driving mission, and against which you test your future policies."

Thatcher years

Given that the Conservatives are keen to show they have changed, does he now look back with regret on Margaret Thatcher's period in office? The answer is no.

"What I have always said is I think what Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives did in the 1980s was very important, it was very difficult, but it is vitally important that we arrested the decline of Britain. We stopped the irresponsible misuse of trade union power, we got inflation under control, we reduced those tax rates from 83 per cent or 98 per cent in some cases.

"This was vitally important.

Removing exchange controls, stopping Britain being an half-Soviet economy.

"There were huge steps, without which Tony Blair wouldn't have had half of his success.

"But yes, there were difficulties, and yes, tough decisions had to be made. And yes, some people did suffer, and some communities did suffer.

"But overall I still think that what Mrs Thatcher did was important and needed to happen."

Civic pride

At the heart of Mr Cameron's political philosophy is a commitment to strengthening local government and ensuring all sorts of decisions are taken at a more local level.

"The question is who stands up for the great cities of England? Who stands up for the great counties of England?

"Everywhere I go, I see huge civic pride in the institutions people understand and relate to."

But people felt proud of their cities and counties, not regions such as the South West, North East or West Midlands, he said.

"So let's empower real civic responsibility in the cities and the counties - get rid of these regional constructs and give power down to the cities and the counties and let them have power, and I think that would be a much better way of doing it."

Regional Development Agencies, which currently distribute Government funding across England, could even face the axe, he said.

"Counties and other areas can combine to win funding, as they do now, and as for regional development agencies, we should be quite devolved about this.

"In areas where people value their regional development agencies and think they do a good job, then by all means let's keep them and work with them.

"In other areas, in the South East and South West where the RDAs are not seen as so positive, it may be that counties would rather get together and do some of the work of the RDAs on a slightly different basis."

Armed forces

Mr Cameron recently visited troops in Afghanistan and hopes to visit Iraq in the next few months.

But he is already keen to ensure British armed forces personnel receive a better deal from the state, after it emerged soldiers treated by University Hospital Birmingham were being housed in mixed wards with civilians.

It was reported yesterday that one soldier, wounded in Afghanistan, was accosted by a visitor to the ward who opposed the Government's foreign policy.

Mr Cameron said: "I have asked Liam Fox to look at a whole range of issues that will go into an armed forces manifesto.

"It seems to me there is a range of issues. One is something you do hear from all our troops - 'while we are over-seas, we pay income tax, other countries don't, it doesn't seem fair, particularly as we are spending more and time on difficult and dangerous over-seas missions'.

"But there is more than that.

For example, contact time at home - 'why do we get so little time on the telephone, could we have better email contact?'

"And then I think there are all the back-at-home issues as well. Are we helping forces' schools?

"Are we providing good health centres for our forces? What about forces' housing?

"I think the need to do more for the families at home is really important. I have asked Liam to look at a forces' manifesto which covers all those points.

"These are incredibly brave people doing an incredibly difficult job for us, and we must not only give them the tools to do the job but also make them feel how much we value them."