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Sunday, 4 March, 2001, 16:28 GMT
Hague plays 'patriot' card
William Hague
Hague: Deliberately controversial
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder.

William Hague has launched the Tory election campaign with an impassioned and controversial appeal to voters to save their country.

If there's one thing above all that sets me apart from Tony Blair it is this - I am not embarrassed to articulate the instincts of the British people

William Hague
In an emotional speech which instantly saw him accused of xenophobia and racism, he warned that a second Labour government would sell Britain down the river.

His end-of-conference speech in Harrogate was peppered with the sort of nationalistic rhetoric that has not been heard from a major party leader for decades.

It sought to appeal directly to patriotic sentiments which he clearly believes lie dormant within most ordinary British voters.

But it infuriated the left of the party, led by Michael Heseltine, who appeared to accuse his leader of xenophobia.


Mr Hague told the party faithful: "We are the only party that has confidence in the character of our people.

"Elect a Conservative government and we will give you back your country."

William Hague and his wife Ffion
End of conference ovation
It is a message he has delivered before, but seldom with such passion.

It was deliberately controversial and designed to hype up his troops for an election battle which promises to be one of the bloodiest for decades.

Mr Hague has had real trouble finding the clear blue water between his party and New Labour but clearly believes he is onto a winner with the patriotic message.

It is most clearly defined by his opposition to the European single currency, but he has now widened his attack.

"This government thinks Britain would be alright if we had a different people.

"I think Britain would be alright if only we had a different government.


"Above all we are ready to speak for the people of Britain....for the men and women who despair that their country is being taken away from them.

Michael Heseltine
Heseltine: Signalled dismay
"If there's one thing above all that sets me apart from Tony Blair it is this - I am not embarrassed to articulate the instincts of the British people."

"Now we have a government that scorns and despises all the things that have made our country what it is.

"A government that holds Britishness cheap.

"That is why the next election will be different.

"Because we won't just be voting for the next government, we will be voting to decide whether our people will remain sovereign their own country," he said.

And he attempted to appeal to non-Tory voters by suggesting he stood for a type of "Britishness" which transcended party divisions.

'Country handed away'

"Each of you in this room will know people who are not Tory supporters but who share our concerns about the way in which powers are draining away from our parliament.

"Good, patriotic people who may be lifelong supporters of another party but who are not willing to watch their country being handed away."

His comments dismayed the left of the party who, under the leadership of Michael Heseltine, had been attempting to stage a comeback.

Mr Heseltine had given a newspaper interview in which he confessed to having thought twice about supporting the Hague-led Tory party because of its anti-European stance.

Big beasts

And he was dismissive of Mr Hague's claim that Britain under Labour was becoming a "foreign country."

"We disagree. Does anyone seriously think that France is a foreign country or that Germany is a foreign country," he said.

And he suggested Mr Hague was appealing to a xenophobic tendency amongst the British people.

Claiming he regretted ever backing a referendum on the euro, he said: "Its not going to be about the erudite arguments about the single currency, it's going to be about xenophobia, it's going to be about bashing the Germans, giving in to the French."

But the Tory party under William Hague has moved on, and Euro-enthusiasts like Mr Heseltine - often described as one of the party's "big beasts" - are being consigned to the dustbin.

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