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David Cameron vows: I’ll turn UK into an 'aspiration nation'

By Andrew Grice

David Cameron pledged yesterday to turn Britain into an “aspiration nation” as he insisted he would fight the 2015 election as a “modern compassionate Conservative”.

In his 50-minute closing speech to the Tory conference, the Prime Minister rejected Labour's portrayal of “cartoon Conservatives who don't care” and defend the interests of the rich. Spelling out his values and what makes him tick, he made clear that championing “aspiration” was not a throwback to Thatcherism, which Tory strategists admit is now seen as a “selfish and survival of the fittest” creed.

Mr Cameron promised to be on the side of the “strivers” who work hard to get on, pledging that welfare and education systems would help them fulfil their ambition and potential.

Critics will contrast his attempt to reclaim the One Nation mantle from Labour with right-wing signals from other ministers to the Tory faithful this week on crime, immigration and benefits.

Mr Cameron positioned himself above that in a speech aimed more at the country than his own party, in which he trumpeted higher spending on the NHS and overseas aid.

Mr Cameron did hit back at the Labour leader, saying: “We don't preach about one nation but practise class war; we just get behind people who want to get on in life. The doers. The risk takers. The young people who dream of their first pay cheque, their first car, their first home — and are ready and willing to work hard (for them).”

He went on: “While the intellectuals of other parties sneer at people who want to get on in life, we here salute you. They call us the party of the better-off. No: we are the party of the want-to-be-better-off, those who strive to make a better life for themselves and their families — and we should never, ever be ashamed of saying so, line one, rule one of being a Conservative is that it's not where you've come from that counts, it's where you are going.”

Defending a tougher welfare regime to prevent people choosing to live on benefits, Mr Cameron said: “Those who can should, those who can't we will always help. Work isn't slavery, it's poverty that's slavery. It's us, the modern compassionate Conservative Party, who lead the fight against poverty.”

His other theme was the global economy, which Mr Miliband avoided last week. “Unless we take difficult, painful decisions, unless we show determination and imagination, Britain may not be in the future what it has been in the past,” Mr Cameron warned. But the Olympics and Paralympics showed Britain could “do big things”.

Insisting there was no alternative to the Government's deficit-reduction plan, he conceded: “The damage was worse than we thought, and it's taking longer than we hoped.”

He attacked Mr Miliband's commitment to higher borrowing, branding Labour as “the party of one notion — more borrowing”.

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