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"The Conservatives are now determined to cash in on a volatile political climate"
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Conservative Party Leader, William Hague
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banner Sunday, 1 October, 2000, 10:42 GMT 11:42 UK
Hague: All to play for
William Hague
William Hague: People will be watching us
By BBC News Online political correspondent Nick Assinder

William Hague has set the tone for the Tory party conference with a confident claim he can win the next election.

And he tore into Tony Blair, accusing him of telling lies in the House of Commons.

Despite the latest opinion polls showing Labour back in the lead after Tony Blair's successful conference, Mr Hague said the election was now "all to play for".

And he predicted voters would be watching the party's Bournemouth rally like never before to assess the Tory alternative.

He admitted many people who had become disillusioned and even disgusted with the government had still not been persuaded to vote for him.

"Now people are looking to us to see what is the alternative - people will be looking at this conference to see if we are ready for government," he said.

'Lying charlatan'

He also delivered one of his strongest personal attacks on Mr Blair, suggesting he had lied to the Commons.

He was responding to his words in a TV documentary, Just William and Ffion, that Tony Blair was "not stupid, he's just deceitful. He is genuinely, utterly deceitful, lying charlatan that he is."

He said the comments referred to a Commons clash last June when he had been questioning Mr Blair about petrol prices and the prime minister had denied using a higher inflation rate to raise fuel taxes than pensions.

"He said 'no' and he denied it and it was actually true. It comes to a sorry state of affairs when, in the House of Commons, the prime minister doesn't actually acknowledge things that are true to the country.

"You can no longer trust the prime minister or the chancellor to tell the truth and that is a very regrettable state of affairs," he told BBC One's Breakfast with Frost.

The comments are a clear indication of the major themes that will dominate the Bournemouth conference.

There will be much talk about winning the election and urging Tory activists to get out onto voters' doorsteps and start persuading them of the alternative.

Pension pledge

But there will also be a great deal about the lack of trust people now allegedly feel in the government.

There will also be concerted attempts to exploit the government's troubles over petrol taxes and pensions.

Mr Hague has already repeated his pledge to increase the basic state pension by more than the Labour government and he repeated the promise on the eve of the conference.

The policy will undoubtedly see him accused of opportunism, but that will not overly concern him.

He believes he has made real inroads with his previous policy announcements and there will be more to come during the week.

His overriding aim will be to persuade both the party faithful and the country as a whole that he is now fit for government.

He still has a significant task ahead of him and has lost the opinion poll lead he gained over the fuel crisis.

But parties' ratings tend to increase during their conference weeks so he will be hoping that, by the end of the conference, he will see favourable showings again.

Most believe that, once the polls have settled down, they will start showing a more realistic position with Labour slightly in front of the Tories.

If Mr Hague can achieve that and give his party something to build on for the election, he will count the conference a success.

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See also:

20 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Breathtaking plunge into crisis
01 Oct 00 | Conservatives
Hague promises 'government for all'
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