Solemn PM warns of the fight ahead for Britain
The Conservatives are struggling. WMN London Editor Graeme Deminayk listened to David Cameron’s solutions.
David Cameron has placed "compassionate" Conservative values and an "aspiration nation" at the heart of championing controversial Government reforms of welfare, education and cuts.
In his largely solemn keynote address to the Conservative conference in Birmingham, the Prime Minister sought to explain why key policies would "get Britain on the rise".
He acknowledged that the Government's deficit reduction plan was "taking longer than we hoped", chiefly as a result of the eurozone crisis.
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But he insisted that Britain was "on the right track", saying: "Yes it's worse than we thought, yes it's taking longer, but we are making progress."
Despite warning the UK faces an "hour of reckoning" in which the decisions it makes will determine whether it will "sink or swim, do or decline", he told delegates that he was confident that Britain will "rise to the challenge" and harness the "individual aspiration and effort" of its people to ensure prosperity in the future.
The Prime Minister insisted a crackdown on welfare hand-outs, relaxing planning rules and taking schools out of local authority control would kick-start the economy and support those who aspired.
The bulk of the 50-minute address was devoted to a stark warning against "a false sense of security" about Britain's ability to return to its former economic strength.
But he said: "Let us here in this hall, here in this Government, together in this country make this pledge – let's build an aspiration nation. Let's get Britain on the rise.
"Deficit, paid down. Tough decisions, taken. Growth, fired up. Aspiration, backed all the way. We know what it takes to win – to win in the tough world of today, to win for all our people, to win for Britain."
And while acknowledging "old powers are on the slide", with countries from China to India and Brazil to Nigeria "on the rise", he claimed Britain "can do big things".
He continued: "So don't let anyone tell you Britain can't make it in this world – we're the most enterprising, buccaneering, creative, dynamic nation on earth."
He promised to support "the doers, the risk takers, the young people who dream of their first pay-cheque, their first car, their first home and are ready and willing to work hard to get those things".
Three Government policies were highlighted as underpinning the aspiration drive and getting the economy moving: jobs, welfare and education.
He said more than one million new jobs have been created in the private sector since the coalition government took office – more net jobs than Labour managed in a decade.
He pointed to the £80 billion annual benefits bill, and said the system was blighted by "three evils" – unfairness, injustice and bureaucracy – and claimed policies including a benefits cap and slashing housing hand-outs to the under-25s would get welfare working.
And he described turning schools into academies and allowing free schools to be set up as a "genuine revolution" that would give state schools the "high expectations" of private education. "Yes – that's my plan – millions of children sent to independent schools. Independent schools, in the state sector."
Arguing it is over these three areas the next election will be fought, he said: "A strong private sector. Welfare that works. Schools that teach. These three things are essential to helping our people rise."
He went on that Tories have a "heart" but "don't like wearing it on our sleeve", which meant critics could "twist our ideas" and render supporters "cartoon Conservatives who don't care". He defended Government work experience programmes and he claimed critics who have compared the schemes to slave labour have a "snobbish, appalling attitude to the idea of work".
He said: "We're not sending children up chimneys, we're giving them a chance. What's cruel isn't asking something of people – it's when we ask nothing of them."
Mr Cameron also attacked so-called Nimby-ism (Not In My Back Yard) – or opponents of house-building – and hailed simplifications of the planning system to get factories and offices built and lift young people on to the property ladder.
He said the party must accept "we need to build more houses in Britain", adding: "There are young people who work hard year after year but are still living at home. They sit in their childhood bedroom, looking out of the window dreaming of a place of their own. I want us to say to them – you are our people, we are on your side, we will help you reach your dreams."
He limited his attacks on Labour, but slammed its Plan B to "borrow, borrow, borrow". Mr Cameron also fired back at Labour leader Ed Miliband, who last week adopted the Tory One Nation concept – saying Labour is "the party of 'one notion': more borrowing."