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Friday, 21 February, 2003, 13:28 GMT
Tories warned over modernisation
The Conservative Party conference platform
MacGregor was credited with a successful conference
The departure of one of Iain Duncan Smith's key aides could signal that the Conservative Party has dropped its modernisation agenda, a Tory MP has claimed.

Chief executive Mark MacGregor resigned from Conservative Central Office last week to become director of Steve Norris's campaign for London mayor.

People will start to say ... have you dropped or down graded the modernising strategy?

John Bercow
But Tory MP John Bercow said he feared arch-moderniser Mr MacGregor's decision to go could mean the abandonment of a more forward looking approach to politics.

Mr MacGregor, who has reportedly clashed with Mr Duncan Smith, is widely credited for the party's strategy to help the vulnerable, improve public services, the plight of the poor and victims of domestic violence.

The appointment of Tory former MP Barry Legg as chief executive and chief of staff will be viewed by some observers as a victory for those hoping Mr Duncan Smith will take on a more traditional right-wing approach to politics.

'Badly missed'

Mr Bercow, who quit the Conservative front bench over the party's opposition to allow unmarried couples - heterosexual and gay - to adopt children, said it was a "great pity" to see Mr MacGregor go.

"I am very disappointed. Mark MacGregor is certainly one of the most talented people in Conservative politics that I have ever met and his talents will be badly missed at Central Office," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"He ran an excellent Conservative conference, focusing on public services, on helping the vulnerable and indeed on updating the Tory outlook to reflect modern Britain.

"I have felt that in recent months his voice has been drowned out and that since the conference, the modernising agenda has been at best, sidelined and at worst, lost."

Michael Portillo
Mr MacGregor was a keen Michael Portillo supporter
Asked if Mr MacGregor's decision to quit was associated with his keen support for Tory former leadership challenger Michael Portillo, Mr Bercow insisted: "No, I don't accept that at all.

"Mark's one of the most loyal people I have ever met - I've known him for 20 years.

"He transferred his allegiance when Michael Portillo was defeated, to Iain Duncan Smith.

"He has worked incredibly hard. He's an extraordinarily imaginative guy. He did a brilliant job at the time of the party conference.

"Although he will do a first class job also for Steve Norris, it's a great pity that somebody of his ability should be lost at a time when the party needs all the talent it can get.

"If ... new appointments are made of people who, at least on the face of it, appear not to subscribe to a modern, positive and forward looking agenda, then people will start to say ... what has happened?

"Have you dropped or down graded the modernising strategy and opted, instead, for a reversion to the core vote strategy?

"I hope not because that is exactly what happened at this stage in the last Parliament. It didn't work then and it isn't working now."

'Bunker mentality'

Mr Bercow said he was "certainly very worried" that Mr Duncan Smith had gone back on his modernising agenda.

"There is no merit in retreating into a bunker mentality and mouthing mantras for core voters, which might well appeal to them and to our party workers, but simply don't have any resonance beyond that category," said Mr Bercow.

Over the weekend, Mr Duncan Smith shrugged off the resignations.

"Of course, people may go who are talented and there are plenty of other people who will come that are just as talented, sometimes perhaps even more talented," he told BBC1's The Politics Show.

He argued that it was "beyond belief" that the Press should debate personnel changes within the party at the same time as the UK stood on the brink of possible war.

"They [the British public] are not interested in what goes on in Central Office. They face a real problem, a government that is failing ... and the looming possibility of war in Iraq."

See also:

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