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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Tory leader launches new 'mission'
Vandalism on a UK housing estate
The Tories must tackle social ills, says Duncan Smith
Giving children from Britain's poorest areas the same chance to do as well as everybody else must be the Conservative Party's mission, says Iain Duncan Smith.

The Tory leader used a speech at Hackney Community College in east London to build on efforts to portray his party as a champion of the vulnerable.


My mission for the Conservative Party is to provide equal opportunity in our schools for all children

Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan Smith told students and teachers that the drive must be focused on helping the young in deprived inner city areas and more power must be given to local people.

The benefit system could be changed to resemble the US model, which gives individual states and cities the power to take charge of welfare programmes, he suggested.

The speech continues Tory efforts to occupy the centre ground but Europe Minister Peter Hain said that attempt was doomed.

Mr Duncan Smith's comments come a week after Conservative work and pensions spokesman David Willetts spent a night with the homeless on London's streets.

Power to the people

The Tory leader said: "The most important thing to me personally, my mission for the Conservative Party, is to provide equal opportunity in our schools for all children - particularly the most vulnerable - wherever they live, however much their parents earn.

Uniformity only bred social division, not cohesion, he argued.

There was nothing compassionate in leaving the most vulnerable to suffer because it was thought everybody should be treated the same regardless of their needs.

David Willetts at homeless hostel last week
David Willetts spent a night with the homeless

Mr Duncan Smith stressed it was time to trust people, by giving teachers, doctors, nurses and councillors "the power to do their jobs and make them accountable for what they do".

Turning to the benefit system, he said there were areas where power needed to be decentralised and other areas where services had to be more locally accountable.

"The two need not be incompatible."

'Sink or swim'

The Tories recognise they became seen as the party of the economy and that this needs to change, he said.

"We have always worked to help people take back control of their own lives, we don't try to live their lives for them," said Mr Duncan Smith.

"Because of that, people too often think the Conservative Party only believes in money; that we are content for the most vulnerable in our society to sink or swim.

"That must change and under my leadership, the Conservative Party is changing."

Mr Duncan Smith said he was building on his pledge to re-dedicate his party to tackling Britain's social challenges.

Poor families

That means looking at how to crack down on youth crime and drug problems, as well as teaching children basic standards.

"Bad schools keep poor families poor," he said, pointing at the gulf between high-achieving areas and those where one in 10 children leave school without a single GCSE.

Peter Hain
Peter Hain says Tories lack credibility on social justice

"As our country grows richer, those who can seek to buy their way out of failure, but they cannot avoid the consequences of failure for those left behind."

The Tory leader accused Labour of running public services in the same centralised way as Clement Attlee did in the 1940s.

Territory battle

"We will have to re-examine the entire relationship between central government and the people it is supposed to represent.

"We will have to challenge every principle except one: that people should be helped according to their needs.

"We should challenge the idea that uniformity is more important than quality, that nobody minds receiving a poor service as long as no one else is getting a better one."

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's World At One programme, Peter Hain said the Tories lacked credibility when trying to occupy what he described as Labour ground.

"The Conservatives have sought to desperately grab some of the social justice caring territory that Labour has occupied rock solid and dominated," he said.

"We intend to have our tent pitched there for good."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Mardell
"It's intended to lure back people who have deserted the Conservative Party"
Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith
"We have always worked to help people take back control of their own lives"
Andrew Haldenby of the Reform campaign group
"We need new thinking"
See also:

21 May 02 | UK Politics
28 Feb 02 | England
27 Feb 02 | UK Politics
27 Feb 02 | UK Politics
14 May 02 | UK Politics
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