LONDON – LONDON (AP) — Ambitious blue blood or an average "Call me Dave" kind of guy?
David Cameron has tried to remake his Conservative Party in his own image as an eco-friendly, down-to-earth man of the people who rides his bike to work. But the Tory chief remains hampered by suspicions of his upper-class upbringing.
Cameron, 43, has staked his political reputation taking his right-leaning party to the center of British politics. He's recruited more women and minorities, declared his loyalty to public services and gingerly tried to draw the Tories out from under the shadow of Margaret Thatcher, the popular but polarizing Conservative leader who dominated British politics in the 1980s.
His big test comes Thursday, when his party has the best chance in a decade to unseat the ruling Labour Party. But Cameron's opponents are hoping his privileged background will come back to haunt him.
Biographer and journalist James Hanning said that, if elected, Cameron would "undoubtedly be the most privileged person to become prime minister since Alec Douglas-Home," a Conservative earl who governed nearly a half a century ago.
Born into a wealthy family, Cameron studied at Eton College, responsible for the education of more than a dozen prime ministers and a bevy of royals. Oxford University was followed immediately by a job with the Tories. Cameron's background is a target for political opponents and popular pundits, but the Tory leader — full name David William Donald Cameron — has countered by asking supporters to call him Dave, and playing up his taste for Guinness beer, darts, and fish 'n chips.
A victory would perhaps owe more to his overhaul of his party — and the luck to take over when voters were tiring of Labour — than to his efforts to project and easygoing personality.
Cameron's 2005 leadership bid was considered a long-shot, but the party swooned for a confident, telegenic campaign speech in which he stalked around the stage speaking without notes.
Under his leadership, the party's logo was redesigned, with a flaming torch ditched in favor of a eco-friendly green tree. Critics complained it looked like broccoli, and the grumbling continued as Cameron began dismantling parts of Thatcher's legacy.
He apologized for her refusal to back sanctions on South Africa's apartheid regime, softened her skeptical position toward Europe and embraced Britain's National Health Service — an issue he has repeatedly returned to, often citing the excellent care the service gave to his son, Ivan, who died last year from cerebral palsy and a rare and severe epileptic condition.
Some of Cameron's attempts to reposition the Conservatives had a distinctly awkward feel. Most memorable was Cameron's practice of biking from his home in west London's Notting Hill to Parliament, which was ridiculed as a farce when it emerged that his briefcase and shoes were being ferried separately in a chauffeur-driven car.
As the campaign entered its final full day, Cameron was on the road for 24 hours straight.
"This was never going to be easy," he told GMTV, "but I think we've made a compelling case."