Cameron: ‘Your country needs you’

By Ian Dunt

David Cameron has called on Conservatives to work together to improve British society saying: “Your country needs you”.

The comments came in a tough message at the closing speech to the Tory party conference in Birmingham which saw the prime minister empliy wartime rhetoric while discussing community and the deficit.

“The state of our nation is not just determined by the government. It is determined by millions of individual actions,” he added.

Video: David Cameron speech

“When we say ‘we’re all in this together’ it’s not a cry for help, it’s a call to arms. Mine is not just a vision of a more powerful country, it’s of a more powerful people.

“A Britain that believes in itself. Not a promise of a perfect country, just an achievable future – of a life more fulfilling for everyone

“At this time of a great national challenge two parties have come together to make it happen.

Sketch: Subdued Cameron turns down the volume

“Your country needs you,” he continued. “And it takes two. It take two to build that strong economy. It takes two to build that big society. We’ll devolved power but you step forward to take that opportunity.

“Come on, let’s pull together, let’s come together, let’s work together in the national interest.”

Trying to explain his ‘big society’ agenda, Mr Cameron argued that the election had settled an ideological battle in British politics.

Comment: Cameron’s speech misjudged and false

“The result was not clear cut when it came to political parties, but it was clear cut when it came to political ideas,” he said.

“Stateism lost, society won. From state power to people power. From big government to big society.”

He added: “The big society needs you to give it life.”

Working in coalition

Delivering the first leaders speech to a Conservative conference as prime minister since 1996, Mr Cameron was keen to remind his party that it had finally returned to Downing Street after so long in the electoral wilderness.

“We should remember where we come from,” he said.

“Three defeats. Remember all the things they said about us? That we had ceased to be.

Cameron speech: Reactions

“And here we are. Back, serving our country in the national interest.”

He was also keen to tell the audience how it felt to fail to secure the general election outright.

“I will never forget the night of May 6th,” he said.

Cameron speech in full

“That night as I drive to London there was that growing sense that we weren’t going to quite make it across the line.

“The country wanted leadership, not partisanship. Try the big thing.”

“The Lib Dems are proper partners – getting stuck in, making proper decision and taking responsibility. You can be really proud of what we’ve done.”

Cameron speech: political response

Mr Cameron was keen to settle Tory party nerves about the upcoming AV referendum.

“I don’t want to change our voting system anymore than most of you want to change our voting system, but let’s not waste any time trying to wreck this bill. Let’s get out there and try and win this vote in the country,” he said.

He was also keen to alleviate concerns – raised by a leaked letter from defence secretary Liam Fox – about the effect of the deficit reduction plan on Britain’s defence spending.

“I will take no risks with British security,” he pledged.

Mr Cameron also clearly and categorically stated that British troops will have left Afghanistan by 2015.

The prime minister promised to renew Trident and spoke out again against the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Meghrahi.

A new fairness

The Tory leader has continued to be beset by questions over the cut to child benefit for higher earners, which became the main issue at the conference.

But his speech continued a tough approach to the country’s economic problems, with passages stressing the need to cut the deficit.

“Everyone knows this government is undertaking a programme of spending cuts,” he told the packed hall.

“I wish there was another way. I wish there was an easier way, but I have to tell you there is no other responsible way.”

Mr Cameron was eager to take to the fight to Ed Miliband saying: “I want to say something to the people who got us into this mess. Yes you – Labour.

“These people must never ever be allowed anywhere near our economy again.”

Mr Cameron referred back directly to the row over the child benefit cut, saying it was “fair” that high earners take on some of the burden.

“Fairness isn’t just about who gets help from the state,” he said.

“The other part of the equation is who gives that help, through their taxes. Taking more money from the man who goes out to work long hours each day so the family next door can go on living a life on benefits without working – is that fair?

“Fairness means giving people what they deserve, and what people deserve depends on how they behave. If you really can’t work, we’ll look after you. But if you can work but refuse to work, we will not let you live off the hard work of others.”

He added: “People who are sick, who are vulnerable, who are elderly – I want you to know we will always look after you. That’s the sign of a civilised society and it’s what I believe.

“But you can’t measure fairness just by how much money we spend on welfare, as though the poor are products with a price tag and the more we spend on them the more we value them. Fairness means supporting people out of poverty, not trapping them in dependency.

“So we will make a bold choice. For too long, we have measured success in tackling poverty by the size of the cheque we give people. We say, let’s measure our success by the chance we give.”

Mr Cameron also had stern words for the banks, encouraging them to start lending to small businesses again.

“There’s another way we are getting behind business – by sorting out the banks,” he said.

“Taxpayers bailed you out. Now it’s time for you to repay the favour and start lending to Britain’s small businesses.”

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham branded the speech “old fashioned” and “unconvincing”.

He said: “This was probably David Cameron’s most old fashioned party conference speech yet, packed with rat-a-tat lists that don’t stand up to scrutiny and some rather unconvincing attacks on Labour.

“David Cameron tried to dismiss genuine concern about child benefit cuts with a single throw away line.

“The party faithful may be happy but meanwhile David Cameron seems intent on squeezing hardworking families and making them pay for his government’s cuts.”

The speech rounds off a strangely subdued conference for the party, which should have been elated at being back in power for the first time in 14 years.

But the decision to announce the scrapping of child benefits for parents earning over £44,000 dominated proceedings, with right-wing media outlets and much of the Tory rank-and-file reacting angrily to the proposal.

Analysts believe the decision to pre-announce the policy may been an attempt to cement Mr Osborne’s ‘we’re all in this together’ agenda into the public consciousness before the comprehensive spending review later this month.