British PM seeks to defuse fears over budget cuts
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday sought to calm fears of swingeing budget cuts as his Conservative Party kicks off its annual conference.
Cameron said his Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government inherited a "complete mess" from his Labour predecessor Gordon Brown after the May general election.
But he pledged to resolve the record deficit and create a bold, reforming government, in an interview with News of the World, Britain's biggest-selling newspaper.
"Let's put these cuts into perspective," he said. "Many businesses have had to make far greater reductions than us in one year."
The Conservatives' annual conference gets under way Sunday in Birmingham, central England, with just days to go before the October 20 spending review announcements aimed at tackling Britain's debts.
The conference is likely to focus on dealing with the deficit and ensuring Britain stays out of recession.
"We are going to lay bare the legacy that we have inherited," Cameron said.
"It was a complete mess -- the biggest budget deficit in Europe, a defence budget that's a complete car crash with 38 billion pounds (60 billion dollars, 44 billion euros) over-spent, a political system that's badly fractured, a broken society and an economy burdened with debt."
He said the centre-right Conservatives were in good spirits entering their first annual conference in government since 1996, and the coalition was in good shape.
"We have our principles and values," he added. "We want to see lower taxes, we believe in a tough response on crime and a strong defence.
"The coalition is working well and I'm confident we can have a five-year government.
"My ambition is to make this one of the bold reforming governments, not just one that solves the deficit.
"But to do that we must reform our schools and make them stronger, reform our health service and make it better, tackle the problem of welfare dependency that has blighted this country for decades and set in train a series of reforms that will make this country a better place to live in."
However, former finance minister Kenneth Clarke, now Cameron's justice secretary, warned that Britain still risked falling back into "double dip" recession.
"I'm at the more pessimistic end. I'm not sunnily optimistic about where the Western economy is going," he told The Observer newspaper.
Clarke said he thought the likelihood of Britain being dragged into another recession was "below 50 percent" and "less likely than not".
But he added: "I do not rule out the risk of a double dip recession caused by some fresh wave of global fear and crisis.
"What I am worried about is global uncertainties and us being hit by downturns in key markets," he said.
The opposition Labour Party's annual conference finished Thursday, having elected former climate change minister Ed Miliband as their new leader, filling the vacancy left when Brown stepped down.
A BPIX poll in The Mail on Sunday newspaper put the Conservatives on 41 percent, Labour on 37 percent and the Lib Dems on 13 percent. The survey of 2,061 people was conducted on Thursday and Friday.
Thousands of protesters were expected to march through Birmingham city centre to protest against the public spending cuts.
At least 5,000 people, led by trade unionists and student groups, are due to attend the conference.
Campaigners said they rejected the coalition's austerity measures, which they claimed represented a "full scale assault on the living standards of working people".
© 2010 AFP