The UK is in “one of the great reforming decades” in its history, David Cameron has said in a new year’s message.
“For me, there are no new year’s resolutions, just the resolve to continue delivering what we promised in our manifesto,” said the prime minister, naming the problems of low home ownership, poverty, poor social mobility and extremism as his four priorities in 2016.
“If we really get to grips with these problems this year, we won’t just be a richer nation, but a stronger, more unified, more secure one,” he said. “It won’t be easy. These problems have been generations in the making. And many of them are tangled together.”
Writing for the website ConservativeHome, Cameron said: “I genuinely believe we are in the middle of one of the great reforming decades in our history – what I would call a ‘turnaround decade’, where we can use the platform of our renewed economic strength to go for real social renewal.”
In a thinly-veiled jibe at the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Cameron argued that while some people shout into megaphones, wave banners and sign petitions, the government was making difficult decisions “in order to defeat these social scourges and deliver real security”.
“So while others are on protest march, we remain on the long walk to a greater Britain... We won’t get there overnight. But during 2016, we will make some of our most significant strides yet.”
On the subject of inequality, Cameron said too many people in the UK were stopped from reaching their potential because of their background. “Just consider this. Right now, there are more young black men in prison than studying at our top universities,” he said.
“That scandal brings together so many of these problems I have spoken about: poor life chances that, though they never excuse a life of crime, often find people heading down that track; poor schooling, because that holds people back; discrimination, because there is even evidence to suggest that men from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to get a custodial sentence than white men; and extremism, which sometimes is even incubated in state institutions, such as prisons.”
The Conservative party’s attitude to racial inequality was this week brought under the spotlight when Oliver Letwin, the prime minister’s policy chief, was forced to issue a statement apologising for any offence caused by a confidential memo from 1985, released by the National Archives, in which he blamed the Tottenham and Handsworth riots on “bad moral attitudes”.
The prime minister also used his new year’s message to argue that it was the government’s “competent management of the economy” that meant flood defences and emergency services were properly funded. “So when we face unprecedented and unexpected flooding we are able to give help to families when they need it,” he added.
The government has come in for criticism in recent weeks for failing to spend enough on flood defences and repeatedly postponing a prevention scheme for the Cumbrian town of Kendal, which was badly hit by Storm Desmond.
A referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union is expected in 2016 and Cameron said he was fighting hard to fix the aspects of the UK’s membership of the EU that causes “so much frustration in Britain”, but that it was difficult to negotiate with 27 other countries.
“But throughout we are driven by one consideration: what is best for Britain’s economic and national security,” he said, adding: “In the end, you will decide whether we are stronger and better off with our European neighbours as part of the European Union, or on our own.”
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