LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron tried to soothe a restive party and woo a skeptical electorate Wednesday with a 50-minute speech that boiled down to one central theme: It’s the economy, stupid.
Britain’s battered economy has dominated Cameron’s 3½ years in office, a period of deep recession, weak recovery, and government austerity.
With the economy growing once again, if slowly, Cameron felt able to say: Trust us, we’re on the right track.
‘‘We are not there by a long way,’’ Cameron said in a speech to his Conservative Party’s annual conference. ‘‘But we are on our way.’’
It’s not just undecided voters Cameron needs to convince. His center-right party is worried by declining membership, leaking support to a right-wing rival and wondering whether Cameron — rich, smooth, and seemingly socially liberal — is the right leader for the next election in 2015.
Cameron promised probusiness policies and educational reforms to make Britain ‘‘a land of opportunity for all,’’ but said the government would not waver from the spending cuts that have reduced services and eliminated thousands of public sector jobs.
‘‘To abandon deficit reduction now would throw away all the progress we have made,’’ Cameron told conservatives gathered in Manchester, in northwest England.
His speech was the climax of the political conference season, which has seen all of Britain’s main parties rally the faithful and appeal to voters ahead of a national election 18 months from now.
Cameron’s Tories currently govern in coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats, but hope to win a majority government in 2015.
Opinion polls consistently put the opposition Labour Party ahead of the Conservatives, though the margin is so small that no party can be confident of victory.
In a keynote address that was more about broad vision than concrete policy proposals, Cameron reeled off great British achievements — from the Magna Carta to the government of Margaret Thatcher.
He said his party ‘‘is on the side of hardworking people,’’ promising to cut taxes and red tape and unleash the power of economic innovation.
In his speech, Cameron disparaged Labour as a party of ‘‘1970s-style socialism’’ whose big spending when in office between 1997 and 2010 had caused the current deficit.
And he appealed to the Conservative grassroots, promising to toughen up immigration and welfare rules and give voters an ‘‘in or out’’ referendum on EU membership.
The party has also promised a tax break for married couples, an example of the kind of low-cost sweetener it will rely on to attract voters without increasing spending.