Cameron makes first speech to party conference as UK leader, warns over tough spending cuts

By David Stringer, AP
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cameron makes first conference speech as UK leader

LONDON — David Cameron addresses his party’s annual conference Wednesday for the first time as Britain’s prime minister — with a message that tough spending cuts will likely stir public unrest.

Cameron, who became British leader in May after forming a coalition government following an inconclusive election, plans to urge activists and ministers to steel themselves for difficult months ahead, and a likely dive in the party’s poll ratings.

About 7,000 protesters — including health workers and teachers — marched outside the party’s convention in the central English city of Birmingham on Sunday to demonstrate against spending cuts and further protests are planned later this month.

Economists claim that austerity measures already announced, including a two-year freeze on most public sector pay and a rise in a tax on goods and services, will likely harm poor families.

According to excerpts of his speech released in advance, Cameron planned to assure the public that Britain’s richer residents will also feel the impact of budget restraint.

“As we work to balance the budget … it is fair that those with broader shoulders bear greater load,” he planned to say, according to the excerpts.

Treasury chief George Osborne will announce a five-year program of cuts in an address to Parliament on Oct. 20, as he takes an ax to government departments and welfare programs to clear the country’s record debts.

Osborne, who is seeking to save about 86 billion pounds ($135 billion) in government spending over the next five years, says families in which one parent earns more than 44,000 pounds ($70,000) per year will lose child benefit payments from 2013. Currently, all families are paid 20 pounds ($32) a week for their eldest child and about 13 pounds ($20) for other children.

Cameron said the idea should have been included in his party’s election manifesto, or the pact drafted when his Conservative Party forged a coalition deal with the smaller Liberal Democrats. “I acknowledge this was not in our manifesto. Of course I am sorry about that,” he told ITV News.

But the leader defended the planned squeeze on benefits and a planned cap on payments to jobless families — aimed at ensuring those out of work can’t claim more in benefits than others can earn in jobs.

“We will make a bold choice. For too long, we have measured success in tackling poverty by the size of the check we give people … ,” Cameron’ text read. “If you really can’t work, we’ll look after you. But if you can work but refuse to work, we will not let you live off the hard work of others.”

Before Cameron’s speech, defense secretary Liam Fox told the rally that Britain’s fleet of nuclear-missile armed submarines would not be sacrificed under the spending cuts.

The fate of a planned 20-billion-pound ($32 billion) upgrade to the nuclear fleet has been under review by ministers, but Fox insisted it would go ahead. However, he did not specify if the government planned to reduce the number of submarines from four to three, or whether he will recommend a delay to the program until after current budget trimming is completed.

Fox repeated Cameron’s assertion that British troops would not have a combat role in Afghanistan beyond 2015 — and took a swipe at critics who have questioned the value of the mission there.

“It is fashionable to be pessimistic about Afghanistan, but there is real progress being made,” Fox told the convention.


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