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EDITIONS
Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 18:29 GMT
Reid gives Tories a lecture on survival
Dr Reid served as NI secretary for just under two years
Dr John Reid has chosen his first major speech as Labour party chairman to lecture the Conservatives on political survival.

Dr Reid would be spending his time more fruitfully offering advice to Alastair Campbell on how to keep his government afloat

Conservative spokeswoman
Dr Reid said the Tories were in "bigger trouble than they have ever been" in their battle to survive as an effective opposition.

While he acknowledged that their extinction is "not inevitable", "nor is their continued survival as a major party guaranteed", he said.

But, he threw a lifeline to Tories fearful that the Lib Dems could one day replace them as the main opposition party, adding: "My own hunch? That's unlikely."

'Big trouble'

Dr Reid made the no holds barred comments in a highly unusual 14 page speech entitled "The decline of Conservative Britain".

But a Tory spokeswoman said Labour had enough troubles of its own, with the ongoing controversy over Cherie Blair's dealings with convicted con man Peter Foster.

"Dr Reid would be spending his time more fruitfully offering advice to Alastair Campbell on how to keep his government afloat in these murky waters," she told BBC News Online.

Speaking from Labour Party headquarters in central London, Dr Reid presented his views in an analytical style, picking out where he thought his Tory opponents had gone wrong and how they had failed to renew and reinvent themselves.

He accepted he was "breaking all political rules", but said he wanted to "sketch out the kind of steps I believe the Tories should take if they want to survive and one-day form the government of our country again".

He concluded that "the Tories' problems go much deeper even than they believe.

"They're in bigger trouble than they have ever been in, in the modern era," he said.

Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan Smith should tackle his party over Europe, says Dr Reid
Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith came under particularly scrutiny for his "poor leadership".

"He uses the gun one week, the olive branch the next," said Dr Reid.

He argued that Mr Duncan Smith really needed to "take on his party over Europe", because Europe was the Conservative's Clause Four.

'Resilient party'

Dr Reid, who has some experience of the process of modernisation during his eight years working alongside ex-Labour leader Neil Kinnock, said he knew his own party "does not have a divine right to exist either".

"We came close to extinction in the 1980s - there was nothing inevitable about our survival. We survived only because we changed, painfully.

"I think our own experience has lessons for the Conservatives."

Dr Reid pointed out that the Tories had flat lined around 30% in the polls - their "longest, lowest sustained run" - in a decade.

The Tories have consistently under-estimated New Labour - they think they're born to rule

Dr John Reid
The average majority of top Tories was barely 2,000, with nearly 50 Tory MPs having majorities below 5,000.

But Dr Reid stressed: "Their history shows they are remarkably resilient. They suffer huge defeats, but they survive. They adapt, then they win again."

The Tories lost the ability to adapt and change to modern Britain since Margaret Thatcher "seized" their political imagination.

"Dogma now surpasses development. That ability ruthlessly to reinvent has gone," he said.

"And because Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Tony Blair modernised the Labour party, there is now a clear alternative to right-wing and endlessly re-inventing Tory government."

'Dark Ages'

Describing the Tories as "an ideological party of the New Right", Dr Reid accused: "Thatcher. Major. Hague. Iain Duncan Smith. Each turns out to be more clueless than the last about the real, historic Tory project - reinvention."

On serious issues, the party remains somewhere "between the Dark Ages and Deep Confusion", confused on adoption and devoted to Section 28 - legislation that prevents local authorities from promoting homosexuality - and with "nothing to say on the economy", said Dr Reid.

"The Tories have consistently underestimated New Labour - they think they're born to rule.

"They still believe we 'stole' two elections from them through soundbites and spin-doctors," said Dr Reid, who said Labour was not about presentation but shifting the centre ground.

"The Tories' extinction is not inevitable, but nor is their continued survival as a major party guaranteed."

He urged them to "end their ideological addiction to Thatcherism and begin the long, slow, thorough, serious, tough process of renewal".

"If they are to match the modernisation of the Labour party, they will discover there are no short cuts.

"It takes analysis, strategy, leadership and courage. Even then it takes time. And even then it requires your opponents to be weak," Dr Reid added.

See also:

11 Dec 02 | Politics
24 Jan 01 | Scotland
24 Oct 02 | N Ireland
24 Jan 01 | N Ireland
15 Oct 02 | N Ireland
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