Britain must 'pull together' in face of cuts: PM

6th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister David Cameron urged Britons on Wednesday to "pull together" ahead of stinging public sector cuts, adding that there was no other way to firm up the economy.

In his first speech as premier to his Conservative party's annual conference, Cameron acknowledged Britons were "anxious" about the cuts, full details of which will be unveiled on October 20.

But he voiced optimism that the nation could handle the tough times ahead, echoing the World War I rallying call: "Your country needs you."

"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," Cameron told the audience in Birmingham, central England.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, which took power in May, inherited a record deficit of 154.7 billion pounds (188 billion euros, 242 billion dollars) from the defeated Labour government led by Gordon Brown.

To tackle this, Cameron's government is proposing spending cuts which will average around 25 percent over four years in many departments.

Cameron said the "nightmare" of what had happened in other European countries like Greece had been averted in Britain, which emerged from recession at the end of last year. And he painted a picture of a brighter future.

"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," he said.

He also spoke of how his signature vision of a "big society" -- in which citizens play a bigger role in sectors like education and community projects -- could help shape a better future.

"Don't let the cynics say this is some unachievable, impossible dream that won't work in the selfish 21st Century," he said.

"Come on: let's pull together. Let's come together. Let's work together in the national interest."

But the head of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), an umbrella group for Britain's unions, said the cuts would hit economic growth and undermine efforts to solve the country's financial woes.

"Deep, rapid cuts will undermine economic growth -- which is the real way to fill the deficit," said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.

Elsewhere in the speech, Cameron spoke of Britain's role in the war in Afghanistan, where it has nearly 10,000 troops, the second-largest contingent after the United States.

He said Britain was not there "to build a perfect democracy" but because of "hard-headed national security -- pure and simple."

Cameron made the comments hours after his Defence Secretary Liam Fox acknowledged cuts were likely in his ministry's budget because of the "ghastly truth" of the economic situation, ahead of a defence review on October 18.

Fox had previously made clear his unhappiness at the cuts, in a leaked letter to Cameron.

The premier's speech -- watched by his wife Samantha -- lasted under an hour and drew the traditional standing ovation from party activists.

But the mood at the Conservatives' first conference since returning to power after 13 years appeared to be muted, with activists concerned that Cameron's current popularity could start to dip when the cuts kick in from next April.

The run-up to his speech was dogged by a row over the government's decision to scrap child benefit payments for richer families. The state has paid the benefit to all families since 1946.

Cameron made only a passing mention of the furore in the speech, saying that cuts would be "fair" and this would include "asking those on higher incomes to shoulder more of the burden."

"I'm not saying this is going to be easy, as we've seen with child benefit this week," he added.

He had apologised Tuesday for not warning voters of the move before May's general election.

The move to drop payments to over one million households where one person earns over 44,000 pounds by 2013 has been criticised by some Tory politicians and activists as well as families and the press.

Many have complained about a loophole which means double-income couples earning over 80,000 pounds a year will still be able to claim the payment, worth 20.30 pounds a week for the eldest child and 13.40 pounds a week for other children.

© 2010 AFP

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