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Monday, 18 December, 2000, 16:08 GMT
Shephard attacks Tory 'navel gazing'
Gillian Shephard
Tories attacked for not focusing on the election
The Conservative Party is too busy "navel gazing" instead of focusing on winning the election, Tory former education secretary Gillian Shephard has said.

I think people ought to get down to doing their jobs, to producing the policies, to doing the work to prepare for a good and successful election

Gillian Shephard
Mrs Shephard's comments came as speculation increased over the future of William Hague's leadership of the Tory Party.

Asked if senior Conservatives were prepared for a defeat at the next election and the choosing of a new leader, Mrs Shephard conceded there was a lack of focus on winning back power.

"I think people ought to get down to doing their jobs, to producing the policies, to doing the work to prepare for a good and successful election," she said.

Mrs Shephard acknowledged that like all political parties, the Conservatives had "movements and camps" and that in opposition people were not as focused "as they were in government".

"And just sometimes there's a little bit too much time or, shall I say, spare energy for navel gazing.

"What is clear is that the public are very alert for any suggestions of splits - they don't like it, we learned that at the last election," Mrs Shephard told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme.

Labour is 'split'

Labour was split over Europe into a "Blair camp" and a "Brown camp", she added.

"There are so many other issues where people are deeply, deeply concerned and dissatisfied with this government.

"I would say the next election is very far from settled at this stage with everything to fight for."

On Sunday, shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude launched a defence of Mr Hague, who is currently embroiled in a row over comments he made relating to the death of Damilola Taylor - the 10-year-old boy who bled to death following an attack on a south London housing estate.

Attack on whispering campaigns

Mr Maude appeared to confirm splits in the Conservative Party when he referred to whispering campaigns in the organisation.

"I have no idea where it is coming from, but whoever is doing it is inflicting grave damage on the party," he said.

Mr Maude added that he found it "breathtaking that some people apparently think that it is appropriate or helpful to spread poison in this way."

He said: "If a small minority, wherever they may be, are indulging in wrecking tactics of a really self-indulgent and stupid form then they will pay a penalty for it."

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