Page last updated at 16:10 GMT, Saturday, 2 January 2010

David Cameron says 2010 should be 'year for change'

David Cameron: "We need change to help this country back onto it's feet"

Conservative leader David Cameron has said the UK needs a change of direction and new leadership in 2010.

"We can't go on in these difficult times with a weak prime minister and a divided government," he insisted in a speech at Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

He said a Tory government would invite main opposition leaders to regularly attend "war cabinet" meetings.

But Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said the speech lacked specific policy details and was "full of platitudes".

Similarly, Liberal Democrat frontbencher Danny Alexander said Mr Cameron "needs to be honest with people about his real priorities rather than simply parroting lines from spin doctors".

He said the Tory leader would be judged by "his actions" and the electorate "will see that he only offers phoney change, not the real thing".

Meanwhile, Mr Bradshaw said voters would be faced with the choice of whether to "change back to a party that favours the privileged over the mainstream majority or a party in government that has helped the country through the downturn and will make sure that everybody benefits from the upturn in a fair way".

We will send out the loudest signal that this country is back open for business and ready for investment
David Cameron
Conservative leader

On his "war cabinet" plan, Mr Cameron said opposition leaders would be able to "offer their advice and insights".

"When a nation is at war, it needs to pull together. I am determined that with a Conservative government, it will," he said.

But Mr Bradshaw said there was nothing new in this idea since opposition leaders are already consulted on privy council [confidential] terms on security matters. He labelled Mr Cameron's plan "a bit of a gimmick".

Mr Cameron used his speech at the Oxford School of Drama to call for economic, social and political change.

"The next general election is no more than 153 days away and I don't think it can come soon enough," he said.

"Let's make this the year for change - the year when the positive defeats the negative," the Conservative leader said.

Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw: "The question is what kind of change"

Laying out his priorities, the Tory leader said he aimed "to create a fairer, safer, green country where opportunity is more equal".

He pledged to protect the NHS and strengthen the economy by instigating "responsible economic policies".

Speaking against a backdrop of a picture of the Houses of Parliament with the slogan "Year for Change", he said a new year and decade brought "a sense of hope".

Mr Cameron said the UK would be "under new economic management" if his party won the next general election.

He revealed he intended to cut public spending through a one-year freeze on public sector pay and bring forward the planned increase in the state pension age.

'New tone'

The Tory leader also said he intended to support businesses through a cut in the main rate of corporation tax, the creation of 100,000 apprenticeships and a new high-speed rail network.

He went on: "We will send out the loudest signal that this country is back open for business and ready for investment.

"Decline is not inevitable. Confidence can return. If we take action now, to get a grip on the public finances and unleash enterprise, Britain can have a bright economic future."

BBC political correspondent Gary O'Donoghue identified a new, "more optimistic", tone in the Conservative leader's speech, with its references to "hope", "progressiveness" and "confidence".

"That is a stark change from what we have had over the last few months. David Cameron and his party have talked a lot about a new austerity," said our correspondent.

"I think there is a feeling among Conservatives that perhaps it was too negative a message - that it was not working well with the electorate. And now that the election really is in sight, they have to have a more upbeat message - a much more positive message - to make people come on board."

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