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

6th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister David Cameron urged Britons to "pull together" ahead of stinging public sector cuts in a major speech Wednesday, adding 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 dismissing the fears of "cynics", he voiced optimism that the nation could handle the tough times ahead, echoing the World War I rallying call: "Your country needs you."

"I know how anxious people are," Cameron told the conference in Birmingham, central England.

"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."

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

Cameron said Britain would spend 43 billion pounds on debt interest payments alone this year.

The government's public sector cuts are expected to average around 25 percent over four years in many departments and Cameron's plans have prompted threats of co-ordinated strike action by trade unions.

In the speech, 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."

Cameron also 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."

Those comments came hours after his Defence Secretary Liam Fox acknowledged there could be cuts in the defence budget because of the "ghastly truth" of the economic situation, ahead of a defence review on October 18.

Cameron's speech -- watched by his wife Samantha but not his new-born daughter Florence -- lasted just under an hour and received a lengthy ovation from party activists.

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

He made only a passing mention of the furore in the speech, saying that the cuts would be "fair" and that 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.

The premier 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 Tory politicians, 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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