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banner Thursday, 5 October, 2000, 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK
Hague: the people's prime minister?
Tory leader William Hague
William Hague pledge to be an inclusive prime minister
By BBC News Online political correspondent Nick Assinder

Tory leader William Hague has moved to abandon his party's right-wing image with a powerful conference speech in which he claimed he would be a people's prime minister.

Come with me to the Rother Valley, to the heart of South Yorkshire

William Hague
In a clear attempt to take his party back to its "one nation" roots, he insisted time and again that, if elected, he would govern for all the people.

He tore into the politically correct ideology which, he claimed, was the hallmark of New Labour.

And he hammered home the conference message that the Tories were now "ready to govern".

He insisted his party was eager to embrace people from all parts of society, but also resorted to the old Tory standby by insisting that only the Conservatives stood for everything British.

Personal roots

He even threw down a challenge to Tony Blair to call a general election now, telling disillusioned Labour supporters: "I'm in it for you."

The message came across loud and clear in the conference hall - he will now be waiting to see if the voters have also accepted it

He also attempted to out-do Tony Blair's emotional end-of-conference speech with a highly-personal account of his own background.

"Come with me to the Rother Valley, to the heart of South Yorkshire," he said.

"See Rotherham, the industrial town I was born in. Visit Wath Comprehensive, the school that gave me a chance in life.

"Come and meet the people I grew up with, children of proud mothers who struggled with small budgets, who relied on the health service, and who hoped for a better life for their sons and their daughters.

"Children of fathers who worked hard in mines and on farms and in steel works, who never knew the security of owning a home or saving a pension, who had no choice but to live from one week's pay packet to the next."

No sensations

It was a carefully-crafted speech which saw Mr Hague playing to his strengths - with plenty of jokes at Tony Blair's expense - but which also attempted to show his serious and thoughtful side.

He attempted to cast the Tories as the people's party while at the same time pushing all the old buttons on core Conservative issues like law and order, defence and patriotism.

The result was mixed. Some activists were clearly frustrated - even dismayed - by his inclusive tone and the fact that his speech veered towards the boring.

Others believed he had succeeded in refreshing his party's identity and setting them on course for the next general election.

It was certainly a far less sensational end to the conference that that staged by Labour in Brighton last week.

Instead of Nelson Mandela, Mr Hague's warm-up act was Jim Davidson, who has dropped his old jokes about his black mate "Chalky White" in favour of jibes about his previous wives.

But that was not the point. Mr Hague was there to prove that he is not just a good Commons performer, but a serious alternative prime minister.

That message came across loud and clear in the conference hall - he will now be waiting to see if the voters have also accepted it.

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