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Wednesday, 13 December, 2000, 22:13 GMT
Tories are 'underdogs' - Hague
Michael Portillo and William Hague
Hague believes the Tories have scored on Europe
Conservative leader William Hague has admitted that his party will be the "underdogs" in the forthcoming general election.

But he argued that victory was within the Tories' grasp.

In a speech to the Tory backbench 1922 committee, Mr Hague said the party must find the "confidence, energy and enthusiasm" to beat the governing Labour Party.

We are the underdogs but we have known that since May 1997

William Hague
He said that the Conservatives would mount the most "enthusiastic, optimistic and best organised campaign for many years".

"The government is taking the government in the wrong direction. Only the Conservatives can stop that," Mr Hague said.

"We are the underdogs but we have known that since May 1997."

But despite that admission, the Tory leader insisted that winning the election and "overturning this massive Labour majority" was within the party's grasp - a feat that would make "political history".

Political conviction

Mr Hague is also expected to argue that it was political conviction that would drive his campaign to become prime minister and that Labour was all spin and no delivery.

In what will be seen as a pre-Christmas pep talk, Mr Hague will praise his backbenchers and single out members of his shadow cabinet for their performances.

Among those expected to be singled out are defence spokesman Iain Duncan Smith who Mr Hague will praise for highlighting what the Conservatives perceive as the danger to Nato of the "European Army".

Straw 'wrong footed'

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe, who earlier this year was forced to backtrack over her plans to introduce harsher penalties for cannabis users, had repeatedly "wrong footed" Home Secretary Jack Straw, Mr Hague will say.

On Europe, a key issue for the Conservatives, shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude will be praised particularly for raising the public profile of the dangers of increased integration into the Union.

Shadow chancellor Michael Portillo and Oliver Letwin, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, were also expected to get a mention for their work in drafting Tory policy on tax.

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