David Cameron sought to dampen fears over the coalition’s drastic austerity measures today as the Tories gathered for their first conference since regaining power.
The British prime minister signalled a shift to a more optimistic tone by urging people to get the public spending curbs “into perspective”.
He also tried to put an end to the simmering row over deep reductions in the defence budget, insisting troops would still have “everything they need” to fight the Taliban after the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) on October 20.
The comments came in newspaper interviews as the Conservative Party prepared to kick off its annual conference in Birmingham.
The cuts are set to dominate the four-day event, with tough negotiations continuing between ministers ahead of the CSR and trade unions planning a series of protests.
But Mr Cameron told the News of the World that the curbs – which could be up to 40% in some departments – may not hurt as much as people feared. “Let’s put these cuts into perspective,” he said.
“Many businesses have had to make far greater reductions than us in one year.”
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, he also claimed the UK economy was now out of the “danger zone” where its credit rating was under threat, and was once again “open for business”.
It emerged this week that Defence Secretary Liam Fox had written privately to Mr Cameron warning that “draconian” reductions being demanded by the Treasury would have “grave consequences”.
The premier conceded that there had been “lively discussions”, but said he had a “very good chat” with Dr Fox at 10 Downing Street yesterday.
“It’s inevitably a difficult process but I’m very confident that we will complete it and we will have a more strategic, thought-through, more clear defence posture that we can win widespread support for,” Mr Cameron said.
“At the same time we will give everything to our troops in Afghanistan that they need. Of course the Treasury and the MoD have to have discussions and they are lively discussions.
“Yes, there are difficult decisions but we will have some amazingly capable defence forces with some of the latest equipment in the world, including more Chinook helicopters.”
Mr Cameron laid the blame for the pressures firmly on Labour, saying his government had inherited a “car crash” of a defence budget that was overspent by £38bn.
Even after cuts were imposed Britain would “go on having one of the largest defence budgets in the world”, he added.
Mr Cameron also hailed the “revolutionary” deal done between Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Chancellor George Osborne to push through fundamental reform of welfare.
After fierce rows, the two men have agreed to replace the current range of benefits with one “universal credit”.
But the heavy upfront costs that alarmed the Treasury have been offset by phasing the scheme in over two complete parliaments.
“No-one said it was going to be easy, but it doesn’t get easier by putting off the decisions,” Mr Cameron said.
“A few months ago there was a very big discussion between the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions about benefit reforms, and yet here we are, a coalition Government which has now agreed one of the boldest and most radical reforms of welfare since (William) Beveridge.
“If we did that in welfare, believe me we can do that in defence.”
Mr Cameron looked relaxed as he arrived alone at the Hyatt hotel in Birmingham last night.
Dressed casually in an open neck shirt and sweater, he did not speak to reporters as he went in.
Mr Osborne and Foreign Secretary William Hague, accompanied by wife Ffion, both arrived a short while earlier.
Conservative chairman Baroness Warsi is to open the conference today by praising the progress the coalition has made during its first five months.