British Prime Minister David Cameron warned voters to brace for "painful decisions" on the economy yesterday but offered little new to alter a grim growth outlook that has derailed his efforts to cut the budget deficit.
In a speech to his Conservative party conference, Cameron admitted it was taking longer than planned to fix Britain's recession-hit economy and rein in public finances.
Cameron, insisting his coalition government would not waver from its austerity plan to erase the budget deficit, said failing to get on top of Britain's economic problems would expose it to long-term decline.
The Conservatives, in coalition with the smaller Liberal Democrats, are trailing a resurgent opposition Labour in opinion polls. Analysts say Cameron will struggle to win an outright majority in the 2015 election.
"Here's the truth," Cameron told an overflowing hall of Conservatives in the English city of Birmingham. "The damage was worse than we thought, and it's taking longer than we hoped."
"The world economy, especially in the euro zone, has been much weaker than expected in the past two years. When some of our big trading partners like Ireland, Spain and Italy are suffering, they buy less from us. That hurts our growth and makes it harder to pay off our debts."
Most economists expect the government to announce lower growth forecasts in December, which could play havoc with Cameron's deficit reduction plan and potentially force him to stretch out spending cuts well beyond the 2015 election.
Credit ratings agencies have given triple-A rated Britain the benefit of the doubt so far, largely because the government has stuck with strong rhetoric on its determination to cut the deficit, even as it has missed its targets.
"Unless we act, unless we take difficult, painful decisions, unless we show determination and imagination, Britain may not be in the future what it has been in the past," Cameron warned.
"We are in a global race today and that means an hour of reckoning for countries like ours. Sink or swim. Do or decline."