Labour 'broke' the economy, says Cameron

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Gordon Brown "cannot hide" from his responsibility for Britain's economic woes, Tory leader David Cameron said today as the gloves came off in the political debate over the credit crunch.

Mr Cameron said his party's support for the Prime Minister's bank bail-out did not mean he backed its wider economic policies which had been clearly exposed as "a complete and utter failure".

Dismissing suggestions the present crisis spelled the end of the free market and centre-right economic solutions, he said the Tories would inject responsibility to the system.

And he hit out at "unsustainable" immigration-fuelled growth and the demise of manufacturing jobs .

"Some people think that this decision - to support recapitalisation - means that we somehow now subscribe to the Government's entire economic policy and doctrine.

"Let me make it crystal clear - we do not," he said in a speech at Bloomberg in London before travelling to West Yorkshire to meet senior management and staff at state-rescued Bradford & Bingley.

"And the complete and utter failure of their economic record has never been more clear to see."

The PM has enjoyed a bounce in popularity over his handling of the crisis and has just returned from an EU conference where he was lauded for producing a widely-copied rescue plan for the financial markets.

The Opposition has backed his multi-billion pound scheme as the best of bad options in the national interest but Mr Cameron is keen not to allow Mr Brown to continue to make political capital from it.

"As we look at the wreckage of our economy after ten years of irresponsible Government, it's clear that if we're going to make the most of those resources we need change - not more of the same," he said.

"Gordon Brown is hoping that his whirlwind of summitry will mean that we will forget what has come before. Forget that - as we enter a downturn, where jobs, home and livelihoods will be lost - that he was the one who created this mess in the first place.

"But I won't forget - and the British people won't forget."

He said: "What's happened over the last ten years is that Labour has broken our economy - and we must fix it.

"Four years ago he was telling the City: 'I want us to do even more to encourage the risk takers'. Two years ago, he was dismissing calls for what he called a 'regulatory crackdown' on the City.

"And only last year, he was celebrating what he called a 'golden age for the City of London'. Now he's describing that very same time as an 'Age of Irresponsibility'.

"Does Gordon Brown really think he's going to get away with that? He cannot hide from his mistakes; he cannot hide from the truth."

He rejected Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman's Commons accusation that his party was talking down the economy, accusing her and other ministers of trying to "close down debate, to shut people's eye, to hide the truth to mask your failures".

"I will never pull my punches in explaining how this Government has brought Britain down."

Mr Cameron repeated promises to freeze council tax, reform insolvency law and stop pensioners being forced to buy retirement annuities as he again rejected calls for him to give up-front tax cut pledges.

And he said the Opposition would announce "many more ways to help families through the downturn" in the comings days and weeks.

Insisting that the recent part-nationalisations did not spell a new dominance for left-of-centre policies, he said: "We shouldn't replace the free-market - we've got to repair it.

"The centre right understands that society and the economy are both made up of the same thing: people.

"You need to get the incentives right, get the framework right, and give people responsibility to do the right thing. You also need people to know that they will be punished if they do the wrong thing.

"That means discipline in opposition. No spending commitments which will never be delivered. No promises of upfront, unfunded tax cuts which will never happen.

"Instead, responsibly focusing on what can - and cannot - be done."

The Tory leader also said the economy had to be made "balanced and resilient".

"Over the past decade, 70 per cent of our economic growth has come from just three things: from housing - which is now declining; from the financial sector - now in turmoil; and from government spending - now slowing.

"And in addition, much of the growth has been driven by immigration - an unsustainable basis when you consider the impact on public services and our national infrastructure.

"We have to broaden our economic base to include more science, more hi-tech services, more green technologies, more engineering and more high-value manufacturing, drawing upon a much wider range of industries, markets, people, towns and cities," he said.

"We need to decentralise our economy so the south doesn't overheat and instead every part of our country plays a significant part in our growth."

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