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UK's Cameron puts economy center-stage in re-election bid

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivers his keynote address to the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester, northern Engl
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivers his keynote address to the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester, northern Engl

By Guy Faulconbridge and Andrew Osborn

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron cast a national election in 2015 as a choice between his "pro-business" ruling Conservative party and what he called the anti-business opposition Labour party.

In a speech to his party's annual conference in the northern English city of Manchester on Wednesday that was heavy on party political rhetoric, Cameron placed Britain's economic recovery at the heart of his bid for re-election.

"Let us never forget the cast-iron law of British politics," Cameron told delegates. "It is Labour who wreck our economy and it's we Conservatives who clear it up."

Urging voters to give him and his party the chance to "finish the job" in fixing Britain's economy, he warned that its debt crisis was far from over, saying it still had one of the biggest budget deficits in the world.

"Our economy may be turning the corner, and of course that's great, but we still haven't finished paying for Labour's debt crisis."

Trailing Labour by 11 percentage points according to one recent survey, Cameron's team is trying to extract political capital from Britain's economic recovery, telling voters they alone can be trusted to keep the $2.5 trillion economy on track.

But stagnant wages and rising living costs have left his party vulnerable to a Labour charge that most people are not yet feeling the benefits of any economic upturn.

Championing private enterprise as the best way of improving living standards, Cameron responded directly to that charge.

"I see that Labour have stopped talking about the debt crisis and now they talk about the cost of living crisis. As if one wasn't directly related to the other," he said.

"If you want to know what happens if you don't deal with a debt crisis... and how it affects the cost of living... just go and ask the Greeks," he said, invoking Greece's economic crisis.

"LAND OF OPPORTUNITY"

Cameron branded Labour's business tax plans as "crazy".

"Last week, Labour proposed to put up corporation tax on our biggest and most successful employers," he said. "That is just about the most damaging, nonsensical, twisted economic policy you could possibly come up with."

The Conservatives are a party of aspiration and tax cuts, he told delegates, saying only they could deliver what he called a "land of opportunity" rather than Labour's "land of despair".

"Profit, wealth creation, tax cuts, enterprise: these are not dirty, elitist words - they're not the problem, they really are the solution, because it's not government that creates jobs, it's businesses," said Cameron.

Signs of a recovery had been helping Cameron to regain ground in the opinion polls but Labour drew further ahead again after promising to take on vested interests, tax bankers more and freeze energy bills.

Cameron has proposed mortgage guarantees to help those struggling to raise a deposit to buy a home. He has warned against quick fixes and accused Labour leader Ed Miliband of pursuing proposals for populist state intervention.

Labour swiftly dismissed Cameron's speech on Wednesday.

"David Cameron only offers a land of opportunity for just a privileged few, not for the many," said Michael Dugher, a Labour lawmaker, saying he had cut taxes for the wealthy but had done little to help the less well off.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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