UK & World News
Cameron Urges Party To Fight On For Britain
David Cameron has faced down critics within his own party and urged the Tories to focus on the fight against Labour.
The Prime Minister used a speech to the party's Spring†Conference to insist he was sticking to traditional Tory values after a turbulent fortnight of internal division.
He warned backbenchers and activists there are just 1,000 days to go before the next general election, implying there is no time for in-fighting.
But he faced warnings from a new Tory group meeting at the conference that the party faces a "severe defeat" in 2015 if he fails to "reconnect" with party members and abandon gay marriage laws over which they have quit "in droves".
In the free vote on laws legalising gay marriage - a flashpoint for many traditional Tories, more MPs voted against the changes than backed the reform championed by Mr Cameron.
The Prime Minister has faced growing grumbling from his own benches in the wake of the disastrous Eastleigh by-election last month, which saw UKIP beat the Tories into third place.
With the Budget looming next week, there have also been rising calls for a change of approach on the economy amid fears about a triple-dip recession.
Home Secretary Theresa May has been at the centre of talk about a future leadership challenge amid Tory fears of electoral oblivion in 2015.
But Mr Cameron tried to brush off the current problems as mere mid-term blues and urged Tories to cut through the "background noise".
He declared: "Let the message go out from this hall and this party: We are here to fight. We are here to win, and we have never been more up for the task of turning our country around."
He sought to paint the Tories as the party of aspiration, with support for families and first-time buyers, a better adoption system, more rigorous schools, more apprenticeships and tighter welfare spending.
"The global race is not just about GDP," he said. "It's about saying to the mum who's worried about her children's future, we are building a country where there is a future, so your kids won't have to get on a plane to get on in life, they can make it right here in Britain."
Mr Cameron - who has come under fire from backbenchers over his "posh, male and white" inner circle - acknowledged the advantages he had enjoyed.
"I know the leg-ups I got in life. A loving family, wonderful parents, a great school and university," he said.
"We want people to climb up through their own efforts, yes, but in order to climb up they need the ladder to be there in the first place, the family that nurtures them, the school that inspires them, the opportunities there for them.
"Great Conservatives down the generations have put those ladders in place. When Churchill invented the labour exchanges that helped people into work.
"When Macmillan built new homes. When Thatcher fired up enterprise so people could start their own businesses. That's what we're doing in the Conservative Party right now."
He admitted the Tories had a "real fight on our hands" to win in 2015 but issued a stark warning about what he saw as the risks if Labour are let back into government.
"Anyone in this party who is in any doubt who we should be fighting, what we should be fighting for, where our energies should be focussed, I tell you: our battle is with Labour," he said.
He ended with a direct plea for the party's full support, saying: "I'm up for it. This party's up for it. So let's give it everything - I mean everything - we've got."
The Prime Minister also announced a £150m cash boost for sport in school to help bolster coaching for pupils in England
Under the plans, a primary school with 250 pupils would receive £9,250 per year - this is around two days a week of a primary teacher or a coach's time.
Mrs May's speech stuck rigidly to her home affairs brief, in contrast to a wide-ranging address last weekend, which was widely interpreted as laying the ground for a future leadership bid.†
She told activists that the Government was "on course" and had "a record to be proud of" when it fights local elections in May, which many see as a major test of Mr Cameron's position.
London Mayor Boris Johnson on Friday told Conservative Cabinet ministers accused of positioning themselves for the post-Cameron leadership to "put a sock in it and back the Prime Minister".
Mr Johnson, regarded as front-runner in the succession race if he can find a seat in Parliament, said speculation over a challenge to Mr Cameron's leadership was "complete nonsense".
Labour vice-chair Michael Dugher said: "When the Tories talk about aspiration, they mean looking after their friends at the top, whilst people on low and middle incomes can go whistle.
"We need a change of direction with a One Nation Labour Government to build a country where everyone has a stake and prosperity is fairly shared."