David Cameron urged Britain to “come together” and build a better society as he told voters “your country needs you”.
In his first speech to a Conservative conference as Prime Minister, he highlighted community activists in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, as an example of the “the spirit we need” to provide better public services and strong societies.
And speaking at Birmingham’s International Convention Centre, he urged the public to follow their example - by joining neighbourhood groups, attending local police meetings and opening small businesses.
But a large section of his speech was dedicated to explaining why the Government needed to make dramatic cuts in public spending - and arguing that Labour should take the blame for these.
Mr Cameron was speaking with less than a fortnight to go before his administration publishes details of massive cuts, in the Comprehensive Spending Review on October 20.
But he had already received a taste of the opposition these might spark, after the party conference was dominated by the announcement that child benefit will be axed for higher earners.
Tories say the decision, which will hit people earning above £44,000, is designed to ensure everyone makes their share of the sacrifices needed to tackle Britain’s huge debts - which cost the country £43 billion a year in interest alone.
But Mr Cameron was forced to acknowledge how unpopular the decision had been in his speech, when he told activists: “I’m not saying this is going to be easy, as we’ve seen with child benefit this week.”
The Prime Minister defended his decision to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, saying: “The country wants leadership, not partisanship”.
And he said the public could also join a partnership with the Government to improve society, highlighting Balsall Heath as a practical example.
He said: “It’s the spirit I saw in a group of NHS maternity nurses in my constituency who told me they wanted to form a co-op to use their own ideas and their nous to help new parents.
“It’s the spirit you see just down the road in Balsall Heath, where local residents’ street patrols have turned a no-go area into a place where people can once again feel safe.”
He added: “It’s the spirit of activism, dynamism, people taking the initiative, working together to get things done.”
The speech was designed to set out his vision of what he calls a “big society”, with public sector workers managing public services, parents opening schools and elected police chiefs accountable to local people.
But along with that positive message, the Tory leader warned that “difficult” spending cuts were needed to reduce Britain’s deficit.
Blaming Labour for the economic mess, Mr Cameron said: “In May we inherited public finances that can only be described as catastrophic.
“This year, we will borrow more money than we spend on the NHS . . . everything in our hospitals and surgeries – paid for with borrowed money, much of it from abroad.”
As a result, he had no choice but to make spending cuts, he insisted.
“I wish there was an easier way. But I tell you: there is no other responsible way.”
Responding to the speech, Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell (Con Sutton Coldfield) said: “This was a serious but uplifting speech, addressing the difficult times which the coalition government has been bequeathed by Labour.”
But Labour MP Steve McCabe (Lab Hall Green) said: “I didn’t hear a clear message or much detail about what the Government will actually do, beyond asking people to go out and become volunteers.”