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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Letwin's hope for 'miraculous' win
Oliver Letwin
Oliver Letwin made off-the-cuff remarks to police officers

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin has said there was a serious point behind his joke implying the Conservatives need a miracle to win the next election.

In light-hearted comments to front-line police officers in Blackpool, Mr Letwin said he hoped "miraculously" to become home secretary in two years time.

"Conservative politicians these days, you see, have to be naive optimists at all times," he added to laughter.

Conservative Central Office are shrugging off Mr Letwin's comments.

My response would be get a life, it was a joke
Conservative spokesman

A spokesman said: "He was making a joke ... Oliver is a man who works well with an audience and they reacted well to his joke. My response would be get a life, it was a joke."

But Mr Letwin later said he was making a serious point too.

It was important to recognise that his party had a "big hill to climb" in creating the basis for Tory support.

But he was optimistic the task could be done because "for the first time in years the party, under Iain Duncan Smith, had put together a coherent policy programme".

'Not pompous'

The comments from the Tory frontbencher and MP for West Dorset, known for his self-deprecating style, come the day after Iain Duncan Smith started to set out his party's platform for the next election.

Asked if his comments were wise so close to the speech, Mr Letwin said politicians should not be "over pompous" and should be "sufficiently in touch with reality".

Iain Duncan Smith and his wife, Betsy
Letwin's comments come after Duncan Smith's keynote speech

In his off-the-cuff comments earlier in Blackpool, Mr Letwin also joked that he would like to blow up the Home Office building, which some see as an eye-sore in Westminster.

Mr Letwin said he would love to be able to say that his first act as home secretary would be to "rip up" the Police and Criminal Evidence Acts.

"But it won't be and if it were I would be out of the door of the Home Office - well, actually I'm in favour of blowing the building up in the first place - I would be out of the door of the Home Office faster than you can say Iain Duncan Smith."

Labour chairman Ian McCartney said the Tories would be naive if they expected a programme of "massive cuts", including on student numbers, to be revive their fortunes.

"The really amazing thing would be for 24 hours to pass without Iain Duncan Smith being attacked by his own side," he said.

"Iain Duncan Smith's latest relaunch seems to have backfired in miraculous time."

Election confidence

On Tuesday, the Tory leader said voters had given a "Mayday" distress signal in the local elections, when his party gained more than 560 councils seats.

In those polls, the Tories took 35% of the vote, with Labour, which lost more than 800 councillors, tied with the Liberal Democrats on 30%.

Mr Duncan Smith said it was a "great result", but critics like former Tory cabinet minister David Mellor say the gains are not enough to be a "springboard" into government.

Scrapping tuition fees for university students was the main new policy initiative launched by the Conservative leader on Tuesday.

But his speech went wider, attacking Labour for "holding back" people in the UK and pledging a "fair deal for everyone".

Turnaround

Conservative junior education spokesman Charles Hendry said Mr Letwin's approach was typical of his understated approach to politics.

Mr Hendry told BBC Five Live: "When you are two years out and the opinion polls are where they are, then we have got a mountain to climb.

"But I think what we have done this week on tuition fees is we have shown we have got radically new approaches to issues that are going to be popular and that we can actually start turning things around dramatically."




SEE ALSO:
Tory leader predicts Blair's demise
09 May 03  |  Politics
Higher fees 'will damage' economy
07 May 03  |  Education
'Fair access' test for universities
08 Apr 03  |  Education
Duncan Smith sets out his vision
13 May 03  |  Politics
Universities query student sums
13 May 03  |  Education


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