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Cameron wants to 'finish the job'
David Cameron asked today for the Conservatives to be given the chance to "finish the job we've started" by being returned as a majority government at the 2015 general election.
In his keynote speech to the Conservative annual conference, the Prime Minister said the UK economy was "beginning to turn the corner" and pledged to build "a land of opportunity for all" by backing business, home-ownership and education as times get better.
He signalled that the Tory manifesto for 2015 will include measures to prevent young people claiming unemployment benefits after leaving school or college, saying that every under-25 should be "earning or learning".
And he made clear his intention to reduce taxes, telling activists: "We're Tories. We believe in low taxes. And believe me - we will keep on cutting the taxes of hard-working people."
But he also warned of further austerity following the election, even if the recent return to growth is sustained, insisting Tories will stick to their economic course "until we've paid off all of Labour's deficit, not just some of it" and will run a surplus - spending less than they take in from tax and other revenues - even after the deficit is eliminated.
Mr Cameron's address sought to draw clear dividing lines with Labour, accusing Ed Miliband of adopting an anti-business agenda and dismissing his promises to cut the cost of living as "all sticking plasters and quick fixes".
But he said that he wanted to do more than simply "clear up the mess" left by the Labour administration
"Let us pledge today that we will build something better - a land of opportunity," he said. " A country built on that enduring principle, seared in our hearts, that if you work hard, save, play by the rules and do your fair share - then nothing should stand in your way."
Mr Cameron used his speech to promise Conservative support to business, praising entrepreneurs as "national heroes" and recalling the "incredible pride" he felt when his wife Samantha - who was watching in the audience - made her own first steps as a small businesswoman.
He denounced Labour's plan to hike corporation tax rates for large businesses as "just about the most damaging, nonsensical, twisted economic policy you could possibly come up with", warning it would drive multinationals away from the UK and cost jobs.
"I know that bashing business might play to a Labour audience," he said. "But it's crazy for our country. So if Labour's plan for jobs is to attack business, ours is to back business."
And he added: "We know that profit, wealth creation, tax cuts, enterprise, these are not dirty, elitist words - they're not the problem, they really are the solution.
"Because it's not government that creates jobs, it's businesses. It's businesses that get wages in people's pockets, food on their tables, hope for their families and success for our country."
Mr Cameron warned that Labour's calls for more state borrowing and spending to ease the "cost of living crisis" would risk putting the UK on the economic trajectory of Greece.
"If you want to know what happens if you don't deal with a debt crisis and how it affects the cost of living, just go and ask the Greeks," said the Prime Minister.
He made clear there would be no let-up in efforts to bring down the deficit: "This country's debt crisis, created by Labour, is not over. After three years of cuts, we still have one of the biggest deficits in the world.
"We are still spending more than we earn. We still need to earn more and yes, our Government still needs to spend less."
In a riposte to shadow chancellor Ed Balls's famous "flatlining" gesture, Mr Cameron pointed upwards as he boasted: "Jobs are up, construction is up, manufacturing is up, inward investment, retail sales, homebuilding, business confidence, consumer confidence - all these things are up.
"Let us never forget the cast-iron law of British politics. Yes - the oceans can rise and empires can fall, but one thing will never, ever change. It's Labour who wreck our economy and it's we Conservatives who clear it up."
Dismissing "Red Ed and his Blue Peter economy", Mr Cameron borrowed one of Mr Miliband's slogans to tell the conference: "I tell you what, Britain deserves better than that lot."
But the Conservative leader also sought to claim ownership of territory where his party has traditionally found it difficult to make inroads against Labour - positioning the Tories as the true defenders of the NHS, promising to drive industrial regeneration in the North of England, and even urging activists to applaud the "noble and vital calling" of social work.
After the scandal of the Mid-Staffordshire hospital trust, Conservatives would take no lectures from Labour on the NHS, he said.
And he said the Labour government had left millions of Britons on welfare, allowed the richest businessmen to pay lower taxes than their cleaners and seen the North fall further behind the South.
After Mr Balls signalled wavering Labour support for the HS2 rail link last week, Mr Cameron restated his firm support for the project to link London with Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, which he said would be part of a drive to "bring North and South together in our national endeavour".
With wind and wave power in the Humber, shale gas around Blackpool and Manchester researching new materials, "we're building an economy for the North and South, embracing new technologies, producing things and selling them to the world," said the Prime Minister.
"Make no mistake who's looking forward in British politics," said Mr Cameron. "We'll leave the 1970s-style socialism to others. We are the party of the future."
In a speech that was light on policy announcements, Mr Cameron signalled that the Tory manifesto will include measures to prevent young people from opting for a life on the dole after leaving education.
"Today it is still possible to leave school, sign on, find a flat, start claiming housing benefit and opt for a life on benefits," he said.
"It's time for bold action here. We should ask, as we write our next manifesto, if that option should really exist at all.
"Instead we should give young people a clear, positive choice: Go to school. Go to college. Do an apprenticeship. Get a job. But just choose the dole? We've got to offer them something better than that...
"This is what we want to see: everyone under 25 - earning or learning."
In a bold attempt to wrest the mantle of "the party of the many not the few" from Labour, Mr Cameron accused Ed Miliband's party of allowing disadvantaged people to be written off and consigned to a life on benefits.
"It's this party that is fighting for all those who were written off by Labour," he said. "I t's this party that's for the many, not the few.
"Yes - the land of despair was Labour, but the land of hope is Tory."
But Mr Cameron said that Conservatives' ambitions should not be limited to repairing damage caused by Labour and eliminating the deficit which it built up.
"Finishing the job is about more than clearing up the mess we were left," he said.
"It means building something better in its place. In place of the casino economy, one where people who work hard can actually get on.
"In place of the welfare society, one where no individual is written off. In place of the broken education system, one that gives every child the chance to rise up and succeed.
"Our economy, our society, welfare, schools, all reformed, all rebuilt - with one aim, one mission in mind: To make this country, at long last and for the first time ever, a land of opportunity for all.
"For all. So 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."
He made clear that - unlike Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg - he will not be campaigning for another coalition government in 2015, but will be seeking an absolute majority to allow Tories to rule without the constraints of coalition.
"We've got a year and a half until that election," he said. "A year and a half until Britain makes a choice: move forward to something better or go back to something worse.
"But I believe that if this party fights with all we have, then this country will make the right choice. Because we always have before.
"Whenever we've had the choice of giving in to some shabby compromise or pushing forward to something better we've said: this is Great Britain, the improbable hero of history, the country that doesn't give in, that doesn't give up, that knows there's no such thing as destiny - only our determination to succeed.
"So I look to our future and I'm confident. T here are battles to fight but beyond this hall are the millions of hard-working people who renew the great in Great Britain every day in the way they work and the way they give and raise their families.
"These are the people we have alongside us. T ogether we've made it this far, together we'll finish the job we've started, together we'll build that land of opportunity."
Mr Cameron was joined by Samantha on stage as his audience gave him a standing ovation at the end of his 49-minute address. The pair left the auditorium to the sound of Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow), famously used by Democrat Bill Clinton as the soundtrack to his successful campaign for the US presidency in 1992.
Mr Miliband responded in a tweet: "David Cameron's speech shows he does not know where to start in tackling the cost of living crisis facing Britain's hard-working families. The last thing families want is him to 'finish the job' when prices have risen faster than wages and average pay is down by almost £1,500."
And Labour vice-chair Michael Dugher said: " Last week Ed Miliband set out Labour's plan to deal with the cost-of-living crisis by freezing energy bills, transforming childcare and backing small businesses with cuts to business rates. This week David Cameron showed he doesn't even know where to start.
"David Cameron only offers a land of opportunity for just a privileged few, not for the many."
A senior Labour source said: "David Cameron has clearly given up attacking Ed Miliband as weak. Labour is now the party setting the political agenda and the Tories obviously have no answer to the energy price freeze."