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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 October, 2003, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Conservative Party Chairman
Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith
As far as billings for Blackpool shows go Theresa May tried to big this one up calling it "The most important Conservative conference for a decade".

Certainly Iain Duncan Smith is under a lot of pressure - not least because half the country's voters still don't know who he is apparently - but also because he hasn't been able to silence the constant hum within the party about his leadership. And yet this time last year Theresa May was warning the party to get behind the leader.

Kirsty Wark discussed whether policies such as paying towards private healthcare, and passports to the school of your choice really would be enough to get IDS out of a black hole, with the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Theresa May.

KIRSTY WARK:
Iain Duncan Smith came to this conference guaranteeing he was going to win the next election, guaranteeing he was going to win. Isn't that exactly the kind of arrogance and taking the voters for granted that's got your party in trouble before?

THERESA MAY:
No. What we're doing at this conference is showing that indeed we can win the next election but the reason we're confident that we can win, that Iain made that statement before we came into the conference, is because of the policies that we're showing. The point is these are not policies we've just developed ourselves because we think they're good policies. They're policies we've developed because we've listened to the problems people are facing in their day-to-day lives. Our policies are the solutions to those problems.

KIRSTY WARK:
But that guarantee, a majority of one would require a 10.5% swing. That's more than Labour got in 1997.

THERESA MAY:
Electorates are more volatile these days. We're saying we're on course for the next general election. This party conference is important within putting us on course for that next general election. What people are seeing from this conference, with the extra policies that we're announcing, is a real sight of what a Conservative Government would be like. And a Conservative Government, which as Damien Green made clear from his speech, would be one that trusted people and put power down to local level rather than centralising and interfering in people's lives like this Labour Government has done.

KIRSTY WARK:
But a party is not just about policy. It's about the leadership. You heard Tim Collins say if you can't say anything nice don't say anything nice at all with regard to Iain Duncan Smith. Isn't it the case that you are meeting local association chairmen who are very concerned about Iain Duncan Smith's leadership?

THERESA MAY:
No, it isn't the case.

KIRSTY WARK:
So you are not meeting them at all during the course of the conference.

THERESA MAY:
No, I'll tell you what's happening. What I'm doing during the course of the conference is having some meetings with some people from within the party, some will be association chairmen. I'm hoping to meet some of the people who have won awards today and will be winning awards later in the conference for the success they've been getting at local level, at winning council seats, in getting new members, in running campaigns. That's the sort of meetings that I'm going to be having this week.

KIRSTY WARK:
So are you saying there's no disgruntlement from local association chairmen, nothing from any constituency?

THERESA MAY:
What I'm saying is that I'm having meetings this week about how we take the party forward and looking at the ideas that people have come up with. What this conference is about is about setting forward our vision of how we can be a 21st century party, delivering a 21st century Government. That's about taking a different approach to politics, which we've been doing. It's about listening to people, understanding people's concerns and it's about providing solutions, like scrapping university tuition fees, like putting 40,000 more police officers on the streets. These are in response to the real issues people face.

KIRSTY WARK:
Let's talk about policy. You're talking about this idea of a fair deal? In health, the ideal is you're going to give people 60% of the cost of treatment out with the NHS, in a private hospital. For those who can't afford the 40%, that's not a fair deal, is it?

THERESA MAY:
You've missed out an essential element of our patients' passport policy which is that for those who will be staying within the NHS, many will choose to do so, they will have choice within the NHS. So this is a policy that actually provides for everybody within the NHS and for those and Kirsty, last year, 300,000 people were forced to pay for their own operations because the NHS had let them down. 300,000 people, many of whom were pensioners, these were not well-off people, but because the NHS had let them down, they had to sell something or use their savings to get the operation they needed. We will provide help for those people but we will also ensure that people within the NHS have the choice of where they want their operation to be. Somebody might choose, for example, an elderly person might want to be able to have an operation in a hospital close to where their family was. Our patients' passport would give them that choice.

KIRSTY WARK:
But also your idea was that you are going to abolish targets and set up an independent NHS. Where would you as a Government be accountable to people for the NHS if you're separating yourself of of it? You are the people who should be accountable.

THERESA MAY:
Government would be ultimately accountable. Government would be setting the overall sum, but then within that there would be an independent body that would choose more of the details of the funding. But you say we're going to abolish targets and that will make us less accountable. Let me tell you about the experience I had recently of talking to somebody running an Ambulance Trust who said they had a real problem because their local hospital had a target for reducing the amount of time people spent waiting on trolleys. So they were leaving people in the ambulances instead of taking them into the hospital.

KIRSTY WARK:
Even if you put these policies forward, you're facing a situation where 50% of the voters don't know who Iain Duncan Smith is and the opposition party of choice for more people is the Liberal Democrats than the Conservatives.

THERESA MAY:
The latter certainly isn't true. What we have done as a party, we've come a long way in the last two years. Two years ago we were 20 points behind Labour. Now we're at parity or just above them.

KIRSTY WARK:
You sit there at 30%, you're not moving, you need to do something very quickly if you are going to move that on. We've come a long way over the last two years. We've earned the right to be heard. This conference is about putting together the message of what the Conservative Government would offer, a fair deal for everyone, a fair deal that people want.

KIRSTY WARK:
You say that you are the forward-looking party, you characterise the Liberal Democrats as loonies. Do you think it's a grown-up way for a party to behave, when on your official website is a picture of Charles Kennedy with a glass of champagne in his hand? Is that a grown-up way to behave?

THERESA MAY:
What we're showing this week is the policies we've got to be a credible alternative Government. Those policies will take us through to the next general election, will show people it's only the Conservative Party that is the alternative to Labour and only the Conservative Party that will give a fair deal.

KIRSTY WARK:
Thank you very much indeed.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.



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