London: British Prime Minister David Cameron tried to soothe a restive party and woo a sceptical electorate on Wednesday with a 50-minute speech that boiled down to one central theme: It`s the economy, stupid.
Britain`s battered economy has dominated Cameron`s three-and-half years in office, a period of deep recession, weak recovery and government austerity. With the economy growing once again, if slowly, Cameron felt able to say: Trust us, we`re on the right track.
"We are not there by a long way," Cameron said in a speech to his Conservative Party`s annual conference. "But we are on our way."
It`s not just undecided voters Cameron needs to convince. His center-right party is worried by declining membership, leaking support to a right-wing rival and wondering whether Cameron; rich, smooth and seemingly socially liberal, is the right leader for the next election in 2015.
Cameron promised pro-business policies and educational reforms to make Britain "a land of opportunity for all," but said the government would not waver from the spending cuts that have reduced services and eliminated thousands of public-sector jobs.
"To abandon deficit reduction now would throw away all the progress we have made," Cameron told Conservatives gathered in Manchester, northwest England.
His speech was the climax of the political conference season, which has seen all Britain`s main parties rally the faithful and appeal to voters ahead of a national election 18 months from now. Cameron`s Tories currently govern in coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats, but hope to win a majority government in 2015.
Opinion polls consistently put the opposition Labour Party ahead of the Conservatives, though the margin is so small that no party can be confident of victory.
In a keynote address that was more about broad vision than concrete policy proposals, Cameron reeled off great British achievements, from the Magna Carta to the government of Margaret Thatcher.
He said his party "is on the side of hardworking people," promising to cut taxes and red tape and unleash the power of economic innovation.
"Profit, wealth creation, tax cuts, enterprise are not dirty, elitist words," Cameron said. "They`re not the problem, they really are the solution."
Cameron, 46, strode confidently onstage to a song by The Killers, but his speech revealed a prime minister at pains to fend off attacks from both left and right.