Theresa May declares 'austerity is over' as she makes pitch for political centre ground
Theresa May has declared the end of austerity, saying voters "need to know that their hard work has paid off" after a decade of spending cuts.
The Prime Minister told the Conservative conference in Birmingham that next year's spending review will set out how the Government will increase public investment while also bringing down the national debt.
In a clear pitch for the political centre ground, Mrs May said the Conservatives must be on the side of hard-working people as she mounted a sustained attack on Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour party, which she described as "a national tragedy".
Responding to Boris Johnson's fresh criticisms of her Brexit strategy, the Prime Minister also made it clear that she had no intention of changing course from the Chequers plan agreed by the Cabinet in July - although she stopped short of mentioning her country residence by name.
Following last year's calamitous conference speech, which saw a prankster hand her a mock P45 and the set begin to fall down around her, Mrs May produced an assured performance which received a rousing ovation in the hall.
She even managed to poke fun at herself by coming on stage to Abba's 'Dancing Queen' - a reference to the embarrassing video of her attempts at dancing during a recent trip to Africa.
Acknowledging that Labour's vow to end austerity has proved hugely popular with voters, Mrs May said the Tories "get it".
"We are not just a party to clean up a mess, we are the party to steer a course to a better future," she said. "Sound finances are essential, but they are not the limit of our ambition.
"Because you made sacrifices, there are better days ahead. So, when we’ve secured a good Brexit deal for Britain, at the spending review next year we will set out our approach for the future.
"Debt as a share of the economy will continue to go down, support for public services will go up.
"Because, a decade after the financial crash, people need to know that the austerity it led to is over and that their hard work has paid off."
Significantly, Mrs May name-checked a range of Labour politicians - including Diane Abbott, Jo Cox, Neil Kinnock and Clement Attlee - as she tried to paint the Conservatives as the home for "moderate, patriotic" voters.
She attacked Jeremy Corbyn personally over his handling of Labour's anti-Semitism crisis and his response to the Salisbury chemical weapons attack, when he appeared to cast doubt on the intelligence services' assessment that Russia was behind it.
Mrs May said: "What has befallen Labour is a national tragedy. What has it come to when Jewish families today seriously discuss where they should go if Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister?
"When a leading Labour MP says his party is ‘institutionally racist’? When the Leader of the labour party is happy to appear on Iranian state TV, but attacks our free media here in Britain?
"That is what Jeremy Corbyn has done to the Labour party. It is our duty, in this Conservative party, to make sure he can never do it to our country."
Rejecting calls for another EU referendum, Mrs May said the Government was instead committed to delivering on the result of the first one.
She also insisted that, despite criticism of her approach by many Tory MPs, only her blueprint would protect the British economy while also keeping an open border in Ireland.
"This is our proposal - taking back control of our borders, laws and money," she said. "Good for jobs, good for the Union. It delivers on the referendum.
"It keeps faith with the British people. It is in the national interest."
In a speech which was relatively light in new policy announcements, the Prime Minister confirmed that the fuel duty freeze will continue for a ninth successive year, while she also announced a new cancer strategy to speed up detection rates, as well as the end of the cap on how much councils can borrow to build new homes.
She said: "We will help you get on the housing ladder. And we will build the homes this country needs."
Mrs May said the UK was at "a pivotal moment" and insisted her government had the ideas and vision to see it through.
"When we come together there is no limit to what we can achieve," she said. "Ours is a great country. Our future is in our hands. Together, let’s seize it.
"Together, let’s build a better Britain."
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