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Monday, 25 March, 2002, 10:59 GMT
Tories pledge to 'transform'
Iain Duncan Smith at the Conservatives' spring conference
Duncan Smith: Tories must return to core values
Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has called on his party to meet the challenge of helping the UK's most disadvantaged people.

Speaking to the party's spring conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, he said the government had failed the UK's most needy.

And he said the Tory party must seek new policies and a new approach to broaden its appeal and help the most vulnerable in society.

We all laugh at Victor Meldrew on the television, but you wouldn't want to live with him. And you certainly wouldn't vote for him

Iain Duncan Smith

To a standing ovation, Mr Duncan Smith said his party needed to reform to better reflect contemporary Britain.

"It isn't about changing what we believe in, it's about being ourselves again.

"It's about doing the right thing and being true to our principles and our values."

BBC correspondent Carolyn Quinn said: "His mission was to show that a new era of Conservatism was emerging... but the real proof of change will be in policy, and that's still a long way from being formed."

Mr Duncan Smith said: "We will provide solutions to the problems Labour ignore. We're going to be patient, take the time to do it properly and get it right.

"But we must also come up with a different way of presenting ourselves to an electorate disillusioned with politics.

"We have to transform the way we conduct ourselves if people are to have any idea about how we wish to transform this country."

Thatcher tribute

He said: "We all laugh at Victor Meldrew on the television, but you wouldn't want to live with him. And you certainly wouldn't vote for him."

Before launching a scathing attack on Labour, Mr Duncan Smith briefly paid tribute to former party leader Baroness Thatcher, who has bowed out of public life on doctors' orders.

"We thank her and we wish her a speedy recovery with all our hearts," he said.

Audience at the Tory party conference
Mr Duncan Smith got a standing ovation for his speech
He said no government had come into power in as strong a position as Labour under Tony Blair - with two landslide election triumphs and an inherited sound economy - but it had thrown away its chances of success.

"Never has a government had so much and achieved so little," he said.

He said Labour had made many promises on issues such as education, health and crime, but had broken most of them.

He said the government was running out of ideas and "coming apart at the seams".

"The government is in the throes of a collective nervous breakdown. They've lost sight of who they are and they've become fixated with how they look... the naked truth is that they have no answers," he said.

Local power

Labour dismissed Mr Duncan Smith's claim to represent the interests of the poor and vulnerable, pointing out that he had opposed the minimum wage and called for working families' tax credit to be cut.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Andrew Smith said: "You can't claim to represent the vulnerable, the weak and the poor if you are threatening to push people into private insurance and charges for healthcare."

Mr Duncan Smith told the party faithful they needed to start "showing that what we believe helps everyone, particularly the most vulnerable in our society."

Housing estate
The most disadvantaged have been "let down"
He said the party must map out "a distinctive Conservative agenda that appeals to the common ground".

Touching briefly on Europe, he said he wanted "a European Union that is modern, outward-looking and decentralised... an EU where Britain still maintains control over its own destiny."

And on a referendum on a single currency, he said: "We will fight and we will win."

The BBC's Mark Mardell reports from Harrogate
"Mr Duncan Smith said the party should be tolerant, generous and not so grumpy"
Iain Duncan Smith
"It's about doing the right thing and being true to our principles and our values"
See also:

24 Mar 02 | UK Politics
All change for Tory faithful
24 Mar 02 | UK Politics
'His best speech so far'
23 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Tories pledge to help needy
23 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Tories salute Thatcher
22 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Tories signal NHS rethink
21 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Modernise or die, Tories warned
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