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banner Friday, 6 October, 2000, 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
Labour takes Hague to task
Mr Hague aimed to reach out beyond the Tory heartlands
Trying to reach out beyond the conference audience
William Hague's speech to the Conservative Party conference received short shrift from Labour.

Leader of the Commons Margaret Beckett mocked Mr Hague's claim that he represented Britain's hard working families.


The truth is the Tories don't know how to stand up for the hard working families of Britain because the Tories will always stand up for the few over the many

Margaret Beckett
She said: "He confirmed that the message of the Tory conference will be that they have deserted the centre ground of British politics, and are now more extreme than ever."

Mrs Beckett also criticised Mr Hague over various Tory proposals which said did not add up and she accused him of "failing again to tell the British people where his 16 billion of public spending cuts will fall".

"The truth is the Tories don't know how to stand up for the hard working families of Britain because the Tories will always stand up for the few over the many," she said.

Realism

After the speech some commentators suggested that Mr Hague's attempt to unveil a new brand of caring Conservatism had led to a confusing message to the public, and warned he still had a huge task in overturning Labour's majority.

William Hague: careful preparation
William Hague: balancing his appeal to all
Tory representatives at the conference gave Mr Hague and his wife Ffion a prolonged standing ovation at the end of the speech, which said that the Tories were now ready to govern "for all the people."

But in private, senior party figures were much more measured. "Look, we are being realistic. There is no triumphalism here," one source said.

Dr Liam Fox, Tory health spokesman, told the BBC that it was a "very mature speech which has reached out to people beyond the conference hall".

And on the Tory left, former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine said that it was a very good speech.

He told the BBC that he could support nearly everything in the speech, and that the divisions over Europe were now less significant in the Tory party.

"What William did is express in his own words the language of One Nation conservatism.

It is an extremely encouraging speech and I think it will be well received," he said.

However, the conference also revealed divisions between the hardline stance of Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecome, a conference favourite, and Shadow Chancellor Michael Portillo, whose more libertarian approach did not go down so well with conference delegates.

Not enough jokes

Mr Hague attempted to bridge the gap, saying that tolerance did not mean the Tories could not speak for the majority of the country.

Some political commentators said that Mr Hague's message was confused, and that he did not show his former fire - or humour.

Trevor Kavanagh, the political editor of the Sun newspaper, told the BBC that it was "a most unusual speech."

It was not very long but "it just seemed long," and there were fewer jokes and more lists than usual.

And Matthew Parris, political sketch writer for the Times newspaper and former Conservative MP, said that at the end of it he was "not very clear" on what the Tories stood for.

He thought that Mr Hague did not display his usual passion and looked a bit tired.

Public appeal

Mr Hague made a deliberate attempt to reach out to constituencies that do not normally vote Conservative - people living in inner cities, pensioners living on state benefits, single parent families and dislocated communities who depend on the NHS and the benefit system.

Now Tory campaign managers will now be anxiously watching the polls for signs of a boost for their party after what Mr Hague called "the best, the most upbeat and the most successful Conservative conference in years".

Labour pollster Peter Kellner said that despite a good conference the Tories faced an enormous task with the electorate.

"The Conservatives would have to double their number of Parliamentary seats at next year's expected election to gain a one-seat majority - a swing in the vote of 10 or 11 percent is needed. The scale of the task is enormous," Mr Kellner said.

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See also:

03 Oct 00 | Conservatives
Hague challenges Blair to TV debate
02 Oct 00 | Conservatives
Hague promises inner-city revival
02 Oct 00 | Conservatives
Tories back Hague manifesto
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