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Wednesday, 11 April, 2001, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Tories are 'neutered' says Mandelson
Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson says William Hague lacks gumption
The Conservatives have "neutered themselves" following their defeat at the last election, according to former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson.

Mr Mandelson makes the scathing attack in an article in the Spectator magazine.

He says Tory leader William Hague comes across as someone who follows focus groups rather than his own beliefs.


There is life after Thatcher: they have not searched hard enough for it

Peter Mandelson

But Mr Hague himself shrugged off the criticism.

The intervention will be seen as a signal of Mr Mandelson's determination to remain a political big hitter, despite losing his Cabinet seat over the Hinduja passport affair in January.

Swimmers

Mr Mandelson compares the Tories to "struggling swimmers stretching out for passing driftwood".

On Mr Hague he says: "No-one call tell what he really thinks.

"Is he still a Thatcherite who believes in the original free-market, tax-cutting, deregulating, privatising project?

William Hague
William Hague: Accused of following focus groups
"Or is he a post-Thatcherite, who believes these things have reached their limit but has not the gumption to say so to his party?"

Mr Mandelson says that Mr Hague is probably a "neo-Thatcherite" - but would not say so because focus groups were telling him that public opinion has moved on.

Mr Mandelson acknowledged that New Labour had moved on to political territory which the Conservatives had considered to be their own.

"But just because New Labour has captured clothes it should always have worn does not mean the Tories have to run around stark naked," he said.

"There is life after Thatcher: they have not searched hard enough for it."

Labour parallels

Mr Mandelson, one of the architects of New Labour, compares the current battle by the Tories to regain electibility with that of his own party during the 1980s and 1990s.


I think as most of the Labour party has dispensed with his advice, the Conservative Party can do without it

William Hague
But the Tories were unable to decide whether or not to break with the Thatcherite past, he says.

"But if you tuned into the debates raging inside the Tory Party at the moment ... you would get an earful of authoritarian rhetoric countered by a blast of libertarian hyperbole.

"Tories are kidding themselves if they think that this debate is where millions of votes are going to be picked up from their fellow citizens," he writes.

William Hague himself appeared unruffled by Mr Mandelson's attack.

He said: "I think as most of the Labour party has dispensed with his advice, the Conservative Party can do without it."

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See also:

30 Mar 01 | UK Politics
North-south split persists: Mandelson
09 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Mandelson cleared but questions go on
03 Oct 99 | UK Politics
Tories unveil 'radical' policies
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