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Friday, 9 October, 1998, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
Blair a 'karaoke Conservative'
Portillo
The darling of the Tory right addressing the fringe
The would-be leadership candidate of Tory right-wingers, Michael Portillo, has branded the prime minister's politics "karaoke Conservatism".

Mr Portillo told a conference fringe meeting that Tony Blair was emulating the words of Mrs Thatcher when she was premier.

But in fact, he was to her what Bjorn Again is to Abba, said Mr Portillo.

"New Labour knows the words and the tune but lacks the intellectual self-confidence to produce its own material," he said.

Mr Portillo, who lost his seat at the general election but who is still seen by many as a potential rival to William Hague, had been in Blackpool to listen to Mr Blair's keynote conference speech.

He said the prime minister - who played in a pop group in his youth - had relentlessly colonised Tory words and concepts.

'A handbag?'

"Often he dreams that he's a rock guitarist and surrounds himself with the idols of his youth," Mr Portillo said.

"But at conference time he believes himself to be Mrs Thatcher. I would not be surprised to find one of her famous blue suits and outsize handbags in Mr Blair's dressing room."

He said Mr Blair could not match Baroness Thatcher's manner of an "evangelist lifting our sights with the power of the message". He was parroting market economics and talked down to his conference like a headmaster, said the former MP.

In contrast, Mr Hague had "taken a leaf out of the Thatcher handbook" and "led from the front and said what he thinks".

'Control for people'

Continuing his bitter attack on Labour policies, Mr Portillo took swipes at what he said was New Labour's centralisation of power, intolerance of diversity and national introspection.

When the world's economy was in crisis and threats to global security were rising, Mr Blair worried about voting reform and changes to the House of Lords, he said.

But Labour had now accepted what it once opposed. "The biggest accolade to us is his abandonment of his past beliefs," he said.

Repeatedly recalling Lady Thatcher's philosophies, he went on: "We cannot blame a thing called 'society' for all our problems."

"The Thatcherite revolution stopped short," said Mr Portillo and he called for people to be given more control over their lives in areas such as schools and improving run-down estates.

'A third-rate marriage'

He wanted people to be less dependent on the welfare state but called for more spending on health.

"The third way doesn't supply the answer to our problems. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, merged together to produce a purple haze behind you does not meet the challenges of the future.

"The third way tries to fuse the politics of socialism and of the free market. That makes it third-hand, and lacking the conviction of either position makes it third rate."

Mr Portillo, whose speech won a standing ovation, wooed his audience with impersonations of the prime minister, mimicking his gestures and words.

See also:

30 Sep 98 | Politics
30 Sep 98 | Politics
07 Oct 98 | Politics

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