Cameron outlines stark ideological choice facing British electorate in 2015
Prime minister uses party conference speech to emphasise differences between Conservatives and Labour
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron with his wife Samantha after delivering his keynote address to the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Reuters
In a speech in Manchester, on the final day of the Conservative Party’s conference, Mr Cameron repeatedly contrasted the attitudes being taken by him and Labour leader Ed Miliband over a series of key economic questions.
Labour, he claimed, has stopped “talking about the debt crisis”, preferring to talk about the cost-of-living challenges facing millions – most notably with Mr Miliband’s pledge last week to freeze energy prices for nearly two years.
Urging voters to back a majority Conservative government after 2015, Mr Cameron, who shares power with the Liberal Democrats, acknowledged that the “past few years have been a struggle”.
Since Sunday, Mr Cameron and a succession of senior Conservatives have sought to s mix hope with a warning that challenges still remain. Despite a series of recent positive economic figures, the prime minister said: “Our economy may be turning the corner. Of course, that’s great. But we still haven’t finished paying for Labour’s debt crisis.
“If anyone thinks that’s over, done, dealt with – they’re living in a fantasy land,” he said. “We’re still spending more than we earn. We still need to earn more and, yes, government still needs to spend less.”
The Conservatives are keen to present Mr Miliband’s criticism of energy companies and his call for higher corporation tax rates as “anti-business ”.
“We know that profit, wealth creation, tax cuts, enterprise are not dirty, elitist words. They’re not the problem. They really are the solution because it’s not the government that creates jobs. It’s businesses. It is businesses that get wages into people’s pockets, food on their tables, hope for their families, and success for our country,” he told delegates.
The Conservatives, conscious they are too often seen as the party of privilege, want to present themselves as “the party of aspiration”. “It makes no difference whether you live in the north or in the south, whether you’re black or you’re white, a man or a woman, the school you went to, the background you have, who your parents were.
“What matters is the effort you put in, and if you put the effort in you’ll have the chance to make it. That’s what the land of opportunity means.”
Mr Miliband’s declaration that he would reverse part of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat plans to cut corporation tax from 28 per cent to 20 per cent by 2015 is “damaging, nonsensical, twisted”, he said.
Welfare reforms – popular with a majority of voters – will continue during the life of the next government if Cameron is re-elected, he promised.
“It is still possible to leave school, sign on, find a flat, start claiming housing benefit and opt for a life on benefits. It is time for bold action,” he said.
Later, party officials said this would mean under-25s would lose the right to claim housing benefit – an idea liked by Conservatives, but rejected by Liberal Democrats.
Young people must be offered school, college, an apprenticeship, or a job, Mr Cameron said, adding that society has “to offer them something better” than a life on the dole.