Theresa May has told the Conservatives they must be the “party for everyone” and said austerity was over in her party conference speech in Birmingham.
The prime minister said that a decade on from the financial crash, “there are better days ahead”, signalling an increase in public spending.
She also defended her under-fire Brexit strategy, saying she was “standing up for Britain”.
And she announced new borrowing powers for councils to build more homes.
A cap on the amount councils can borrow to fund new developments “doesn’t make sense” and would be scrapped, she said.
Other promises included a “step change” in how cancer is diagnosed with a strategy aimed at increasing early detection rates, plus another freeze in fuel duty.
The prime minister – whose dancing in Kenya made headlines in August – danced on to the stage to the sounds of Abba, and immediately sought to make light of last year’s difficult speech.
She joked that if she had a cough this time, it was only because she had been up all night gluing the letters on to the backdrop.
The Tory conference has been dominated by Brexit, with former foreign secretary Boris Johnson launching a fresh broadside against her Chequers plan – it is known by the country residence where it was agreed in July – for trade with the EU.
And as she prepared to deliver the speech, Conservative MP James Duddridge announced he had submitted a letter to the backbench 1922 Committee calling for a leadership contest.
In her speech there was no mention of “Chequers” specifically – with Mrs May describing her plan as a “free trade deal that provides for frictionless trade in goods”.
Defending it, she warned delegates that pursuing “our own visions of the perfect Brexit” could lead to “no Brexit at all”.
On austerity, Mrs May said people needed to know “that the end is in sight”.
The Tories could not just “clean up a mess” they should “steer a course to a better future”, she said.
“Sound finances are essential, but they are not the limit of our ambition. Because you made sacrifices, there are better days ahead.”
At next year’s Spending Review she said spending on public services would increase.
“Because, a decade after the financial crash, people need to know that the austerity it led to is over and that their hard work has paid off.”
In her speech, Mrs May said the Tories must be “a party not for the few, not even for the many but for everyone who is willing to work hard and do their best”.
“Our best days lie ahead of us”, she said, adding: “Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t have what it takes.”
She also condemned the personal abuse of politicians, speaking up for Labour’s Diane Abbott and calling for an end to “the bitterness and bile which is poisoning our politics”.
Mrs May made repeated attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s politics, criticising his opposition to military action and claiming he would raise taxes “higher and higher”.
But the Tories needed to “do more than criticise” Labour, she said, vowing to “make markets work in the interests of ordinary people again”.
She said she wanted to help people on low incomes, ruling out any increase in fuel duty in the Budget on 29 October.
There had been speculation that the annual freeze, in place since 2010, may come to an end with speculation that an inflation-linked rise could be used to pay for the £20bn in extra annual funding promised for the NHS.
The Local Government Association, which has been calling for an end to the cap on borrowing for house-building, welcomed the announcement.
“Our national housing shortage is one of the most pressing issues we face and it is clear that only an increase of all types of housing – including those for affordable or social rent – will solve the housing crisis,” said its chairman, Lord Porter.
The CBI – which criticised Mrs May’s immigration plans on Tuesday – welcomed her call to “back business” and urged MPs to support her Brexit plan to get a deal “over the line”.