Prime Minister David Cameron uses his keynote speech to the Conservative conference to pledge a return of right to buy, tax breaks for married couples, and the legalisation of gay marriage.
Mr Cameron returned on several occasions to big society themes – the idea that people are empowered by embracing “can-do optimism” and doing things for themselves.
“That’s why so much of my leadership is about unleashing your leadership, giving everyone who wants to seize it the opportunity, the support and, above all, the freedom to get things done,” the Conservative leader said.
Leadership in the world relied on moral as well as military strength, Mr Cameron said, citing the UK’s involvement in Nato’s Libya campaign and in providing aid to “the world’s poorest”.
Today’s edition of the Daily Telegraph reported that Mr Cameron would use his speech to urge householders to pay off their personal debts to help Britain recover from what is “no normal recession”.
That line had been rewritten by the time he delivered his speech to conference. In fact, he asserted that households in this country were already “paying down their credit card and store card bills”.
On the state of the world economy, Mr Cameron laid the blame for the debt crisis on “businesses, banks and, most of all, governments”. To applause, he said of the last Labour government: “We must never, ever let these people anywhere near our economy again.”
He blamed the previous Labour administration for “not regulating banks, for crushing civil liberties, for failing to go green, for not building enough homes” – and for “sucking up” to Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader.
Mr Cameron pledged that as long as he was prime minister, the UK would never join the euro. The fact that Britain was outside the eurozone meant the country could lay the foundations for its recovery “on our own terms, in our own way”.
The coalition government’s deficit reduction plan, he said, was “a one-nation deficit reduction plan from a one-nation party”.
We are the party of the NHS and, as long as I’m here, we always will be. David Cameron
Last week, Ed Miliband told delegates to the Labour Party conference in Liverpool: “It’s the oldest truth in politics: you can’t trust the Tories on the National Health Service.”
But today Mr Cameron asserted that it was the Conservatives who were “the party of the NHS and, as long as I’m here, we always will be”. In contrast to Labour and Liberal Democrat policies, it had been Tory policy at the last general election to protect and spend more on the NHS.
On the importance of rebuilding Britain’s manufacturing base, the Conservative leader said the country’s new economy was focused on “advanced manufacturing, technology, life sciences, green engineering”.
But the EU had to “wake up” to allow members countries to grow their economies, he said. And planning reform within the UK was needed in order to give businesses the space to grow. Enterprises, he said, were “stuck in the mud of our planning system”.
Searching pupils bags
On schools, Mr Cameron called for “proper teaching, good discipline, rigorous exams” – but he said the education system had been infected by an ideology which “has too often made excuses for failure”.
Returning to the theme of leadership, he said his party was backing more headteachers “to turn schools into academies”.
On academic achievement and discipline in schools, he promised that exams would be marked on punctuation and grammar and that “teachers are going to be able to search pupils bags for anything banned in school – mobile phones, alcohol, weapons, anything.”
At yesterday’s session of the Conservative Party conference, Home Secretary Theresa May provoked controversy by remarks she had made in relation to the human rights act.
With us, (benefit claimants) will only get something if they give something. David Cameron
Mr Cameron addressed the subject again this afternoon, stating that the Tories were clamping down on “criminals who use the human rights act to try and stay in the country”.
On welfare, he announced that benefits claimants would “only get something if they give something”. People will be given intensive personal support to return to work if they have been without a job and on benefits for five years.
The coalition also planned to reintroduce the “right to buy” policy introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government, under which council house tenants are given the right to buy their homes. The money accrued would be used, the prime minister said, to address the housing shortage by building new homes.
On the riots in England over the summer, Mr Cameron suggested the problems that had provoked the violence could be resolved by building “a big society, a stronger society”.
That started with families – and Mr Cameron promised his government would be “the most family-friendly government the country has ever seen”, providing more childcare, health visits, relationship support and help with parenting.
The Conservative leader also pledged to recognise marriage in the tax system – including gay marriage. “I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative,” he said. “I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”
Mr Cameron ended his speech with a return to the big society theme. Local people, he said, could be encouraged to take local initiatives by offering leadership to make such things happen.
To this end, CRB checks would be cut back and the burden of “health and safety” would be eased. In addition, the government plans to triple the scale of National Citizen Service. “That’s how we’ll build our big society,” Mr Cameron said.
In a conclusion which echoed the words of his chancellor, George Osborne, at the conference two days ago, Mr Cameron exhorted the country to “show the world some fight”.
“Let’s pull together, work together,” the prime minister urged, “and together lead Britain to better days.”