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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 12:40 GMT
Willetts outlines One Nation hope
David Willetts
Mr Willetts will give a speech to Conservative Future
The Conservatives are set to try to reclaim their One Nation credentials in a move that is widely being seen as a step away from Thatcherism.

In a change of emphasis, Tory work and pensions spokesman David Willetts is to concede that the deprived parts of the UK feel forgotten by his party.


We want to see stronger local communities and networks of neighbourliness

David Willetts
Mr Willetts believes that renewing the Conservative approach to poverty is crucial to the renewal of his party.

But the speech was rejected as "too little, too late" by the Liberal Democrats.

Their work and pensions spokesman, Steve Webb, said: "The person talking today about reconnecting with the poor is the same person who wrote their manifesto, which was rejected by the electorate in huge numbers.

"Those who remember the 18 years where the Tories paid no heed to poverty realise that today's initiative is too little, too late."

Mr Willetts' speech follows another by Oliver Letwin, in which the shadow home secretary called for a more "neighbourly" society.

After delivering his speech Mr Willetts is to spend a night in a Birmingham council house.

More than economics?

Mr Willetts will say: "The renewal of our approach to poverty is not just essential for people living in our most hard-pressed areas. It is also crucial to the renewal of Conservatism itself."

He will add that during the 1980s the Tories had developed a reputation of being the economics party but that economics "is not enough".

And he will insist that the free market is "rooted in society" and that it "brings with it obligations to our fellow citizens".

Single parent family
The commitment to the family remains
That remark is sure to be taken as a move away from Margaret Thatcher's comment that "there is no such thing as society".

During a speech to members of Conservative Future at Tory central office, Mr Willetts will also attack Labour's schemes for tackling poverty as "confusing".

He will say that financial assistance should be targeted at vulnerable age groups rather than at people whose incomes fall below centrally dictated thresholds.

Family values

But his message will still be rooted in what are traditionally claimed to be Conservative values.

"It is difficult to envisage the renewal of our poorest communities without a strengthening of the family," he will say.

The Tories also plan to conduct a series of 'One Nation hearings' aimed at getting the party back in touch with parts of the country "which fear that politicians in general and we in the Conservative Party in particular have forgotten".

"We want to see stronger local communities and networks of neighbourliness," Mr Willetts will say.

"That is what society is all about."

See also:

08 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Tories signal law and order shift
04 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Letwin falls prey to 'loo trick' thieves
09 Oct 01 | Conservatives
Tories bid for public service credentials
05 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Norman's hopes for Tory change
14 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Eurosceptics prosper under Duncan Smith
02 Aug 00 | UK
Compassion v conservatism
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