When Tony Blair reforged his party in the 1990s, it was sometimes hard to believe he was a Labour politician at all. Old totems such as opposition to private sector involvement in public services or suspicion of the free market went out of the window.
Some Labour diehards consoled themselves with the thought that he was only saying such things to get himself elected. They were soon proved wrong, once Mr Blair entered Downing Street. He really meant it.
David Cameron has also set out to re-create his party and prepare it for government in the 21st century.
But he has remained a recognisably Conservative leader, as yesterday’s speech showed. There was a promise to seek out and “destroy” wasteful government spending. There was a commitment to supporting families, and there was a determination to return to traditional teaching, where children in state schools are taught spelling and grammar in the way privately-educated youngsters and their parents take for granted.
But this was a Conservatism different to that which dominated the party during the 1980s.
Once, speakers at party conferences competed to see who could demand the return of hanging and flogging in the most strident tones.
Mr Cameron instead spoke of the need to prevent people becoming criminals in the first place – and to tackle the social problems which are often connected to crime, such as illiteracy and drug abuse.
He talked about the need to improve the National Health Service, audaciously declaring that the Tories were now the party of the NHS.
And he warned that there could be no tax cuts while the economic circumstances where so difficult.
What Birmingham witnessed this week was not so much a new brand of Conservatism but the triumphant return of the softer, “one-nation” Tory values associated with the old Conservative heroes namechecked repeatedly throughout the week – Disraeli and Chamberlain.
Mr Cameron took a risk with his warnings about the state of the economy. It was predictable that he would rule out tax cuts. But he went further, by revealing that his party was actively looking for spending cuts.
While he insisted this meant axing “waste”, Labour are sure to accuse him of planning to run down public services. He is also vulnerable to charges of inconsistency, having ruled out tax cuts – as his party is planning to freeze council tax and reduce corporation tax for smaller businesses.