LONDON — LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday that Britain is on the road to financial recovery, and his Conservative Party will unleash economic energy to make it "a land of opportunity for all."
In a speech to the party's annual conference, Cameron put an upbeat spin on his government's three years in office, a period of deep recession, weak recovery and government austerity.
And he 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 said.
He acknowledged that for many Britons, "these past few years have been a real struggle," and added: "The struggle will only be worth it if we as a country finish the job we started."
The 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 spoke for just under an hour to Conservative delegates in Manchester, northwest England, in a speech that reeled off great British achievements — from the Magna Carta to the government of Margaret Thatcher.
The opposition Labour Party has painted Cameron's Conservatives as a party of the rich, and promised to help Britons suffering a "cost-of-living crisis" as a result of the global financial meltdown.
Cameron hit back by saying the crisis was the result of debt built up under Labour governments between 1997 and 2010.
"Our economy may be turning the corner, and of course that's great, but we still haven't finished paying for Labour's debt crisis," Cameron said.
Painting Labour as a party of old-school socialism and economic stagnation, Cameron said the Conservatives would cut red tape and unleash the power of economic innovation.
"Profit, wealth creation, tax cuts, enterprise are not dirty, elitist words," he said. "They're not the problem, they really are the solution."
Cameron's Tories currently govern in coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats, an arrangement that displeases many members of the right-of-center Conservative Party.
It hopes to win a majority government at the next election, in 2015, but some in the party wonder whether Cameron — rich, socially liberal and relatively young — is the leader for the job.
In a speech that was more about a broad vision than concrete policy proposals, Cameron appealed to the party's base, promising to toughen up immigration and welfare rules and give voters an "in or out" referendum on the European Union.
"This party at its heart is about big people, strong communities, responsible businesses — a bigger society, not a bigger state," he said.
"The land of despair was Labour, but the land of hope is Tory."