Your country needs you, says David Cameron

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News, in Birmingham

Media caption,
David Cameron: "Your country needs you"

David Cameron has said "your country needs you" as he urged Britons to "pull together" in the national interest.

Seeking to outline a brighter vision amid the row over child benefit and spending cuts, he called for people to "step up" and play their part.

The cuts would be tough, he said during his closing speech to the Conservative conference, but he insisted there was "no other responsible way".

And in a few years "the rewards will be felt by everyone in our country".

Mr Cameron began by thanking voters for giving the party a chance after 13 years "in the wilderness".

"We will work flat out to prove worthy of that chance," he said.

The prime minister returned to his party's general election theme of The Big Society - which the party says is about empowering communities and redistributing power.

Critics, such as Labour, have suggested it was designed to mask public sector cuts.

Mr Cameron denied it was a "cover for cuts" saying it was "about government helping to build a nation of doers and go-getters, where people step forward not sit back, where people come together to make life better".

Seeking to strike a positive note, he said he wanted a "Britain that believes in itself" and urged the country to "pull together" to meet challenges - including tackling the record deficit.

"Your country needs you," Mr Cameron said - urging people to start up businesses, seize opportunities to help run public services and join social action groups.

He said he wanted a country where everyone was not "captive to the circumstances of their birth, they are not flotsam and jetsam in the great currents of wealth and power".

'We are radical'

He promised to devolve more power to people and accused Labour of "defending the status quo": "We are the radicals now, breaking apart the old system with a massive transfer for power, from the state to citizens, politicians to people, government to society."

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said Mr Cameron had tried to evoke a wartime spirit with his message, urging people to come together in the national interest to face national challenges. But he said the PM had tried to extend that beyond the issue of cuts - he wanted to say the "big society" was a way of liberating people.

Members cheered attacks on Labour, who were accused of having "mortgaged Britain to the hilt".

The prime minister said he knew people were anxious about spending cuts - due to be outlined in the comprehensive spending review in a few weeks' time.

"I wish there was an easier way but I tell you: There is no other responsible way," he said.

"I promise you that if we pull together to deal with these debts today, then just a few years down the line the rewards will be felt by everyone in our country."

The conference in Birmingham has been dominated by the backlash over plans to cut child benefit for higher earners from 2013.

Mr Cameron said it showed the spending cuts would not be easy - but repeated his argument that it was fair to ask "those with broader shoulders" to "bear a greater load".

However he said fairness also meant getting more people into work and warned that those "living a life on benefits" when they could work, would not be able to continue to do so.

Trident and security

He pledged to back the "doers and the grafters" and "wealth creators" - but said it was time for banks bailed out by the taxpayer to start lending to small businesses.

The prime minister acknowledged that some Conservatives felt he should have formed a minority government when the general election resulted in a hung parliament.

But he said that would have "limped through Parliament, unable to do anything useful for our country".

Mr Cameron's speech also included tributes to his predecessors as Conservative leader and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg - who agreed to take his party into coalition with the Conservatives. The PM said they could be "proud" of what the coalition had already achieved.

He also paid tribute to troops in Afghanistan and said he would take "no risks with British security" in the spending review, stressing his commitment to renewing the Trident nuclear missile system.

For Labour, former health secretary Andy Burnham said Mr Cameron had put "the best gloss on what's been a pretty shambolic week for the Conservatives".

He accused Mr Cameron of "rewriting history" on the economic crisis by blaming Labour: "I'm afraid that's not right. Governments all over the world are facing up now to the aftermath to the economic crisis. It didn't begin here Mr Cameron - it began in the USA."

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