Page last updated at 16:18 GMT, Thursday, 8 October 2009 17:18 UK

I'm up to the test, Cameron says

Cameron attacks 'big government'

Conservative leader David Cameron has said he is "ready to be tested" if his party wins power, in his last conference speech ahead of an election.

He said times would be "tough" but his party would "rebuild responsibility" to "put Britain back on her feet".

In a personal reference, he said the death of his son Ivan had made him ask "do I really want to do this?".

If he won power he said his "first and gravest responsibility" would be to British troops in Afghanistan.

He said a "war cabinet", made up of his national security council of ministers and defence chiefs, would sit from the first day of a Conservative government.

And he pledged to "send more soldiers to train more Afghans to deliver the security we need. Then we can bring our troops home".

Mr Cameron praised some Labour achievements, including the minimum wage and civil partnerships but said the party believed "for every problem there's a government solution" which had led to a "steady erosion of responsibility".

'Steep climb'

He said a Conservative government would roll back "big government" in favour of a "stronger society".

Mr Cameron said if his party won the next election - which has to be called by June 2010 - "it is going to be tough" and there would be a "steep climb ahead".

Don't you dare lecture us about poverty. You have failed and it falls to us, the modern Conservative Party, to fight for the poorest who you have let down
David Cameron

But he promised "the view from the summit will be worth it".

The wide ranging speech saw Mr Cameron promise to tackle welfare dependency and anti-social behaviour, boost business, improve the NHS and put a cap on some immigration.

He reiterated several previous pledges but concentrated on delivering his vision of what a Conservative government would do for Britain.

It would reward those who took responsibility and care for those who could not, he said, adding he wanted a country where "the poorest children go to the best schools not the worst, where birth is never a barrier".

Budget deficit

He said policies had been outlined during the week but when it came to dealing with "unpredictable events" he said it was "your character, your temperament and your judgement ... that really make the difference".

He said a Conservative government would back savers, workers, entrepreneurs and families.

"When such a big part of your life suddenly ends nothing else - nothing outside - matters"

And he added: "If you're frightened, we'll protect you, if you risk your safety to stop a crime, we'll stand by you, if you risk your life to fight for your country, we will honour you."

Mr Cameron's plans to start reducing spending immediately to tackle the budget deficit - predicted to reach £175bn in this financial year - have been criticised by Labour ministers who say the party is isolated and would prolong the recession.

But Mr Cameron said the "longer we wait for a credible plan, the bigger the bill for our children to pay" and asked what was "compassionate" about spending "more on debt interest than on helping the poorest children".

Attacking the Labour government he said they, not the "wicked Tories", had made "the poorest poorer" and made inequality greater.

Dannatt appointment

Conference members got to their feet to applaud as he said: "Don't you dare lecture us about poverty. You have failed and it falls to us, the modern Conservative Party, to fight for the poorest who you have let down."

In a reference to the death of his six-year-old son Ivan in February, he said "this year will only ever mean one thing" to him and his wife Samantha.

"When such a big part of your life suddenly ends, nothing else - nothing outside - matters. It's like the world has stopped turning and the clocks have stopped ticking," he said.

It concealed the judgement calls he has consistently got wrong and the real threat of what he would do
Liam Byrne
Chief Secretary to the Treasury

He said it made him ask "do I really want to do this" and paid tribute to his wife saying she "sustains me the most".

Mr Cameron also confirmed that former head of the Army General Sir Richard Dannatt would become a Tory defence adviser and may serve in a future Tory government.

After the speech Tory chairman Eric Pickles told the BBC he thought it was significant there were two standing ovations during the speech - for his comments on Labour's record on poverty and on the troops in Afghanistan.

But for the government, minister Liam Byrne said it was "emotive but deceptive".

"It concealed the judgement calls he has consistently got wrong and the real threat of what he would do. He attacked the recession but opposed every decision we have taken to accelerate the recovery.

"He feigned concern for the poor but made no mention of his tax giveaway of £200,000 to the wealthiest few," he said.

"This was a traditional Conservative speech, it was not a speech of change. The two faces of the Conservative Party are increasingly on show."

For the Liberal Democrats, Danny Alexander said there was a "huge gulf between the sunny rhetoric of David Cameron and the grim reality of Tory policy".

"The Tories claim to be honest on spending, but their proposals barely scratch the surface," he said.

"They expect to have the keys to Downing Street handed to them, but at a time of crisis they have the wrong solutions and the wrong priorities."



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