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Monday, August 2, 1999 Published at 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK

UK Politics

Labour warns of Tory 'extremism'

William Hague: Labour says he is keeping odd company

Labour has embarked on a summer offensive against the Conservative Party, accusing it of "new extremism".

Newly-appointed Cabinet Office minister Ian McCartney said the Conservatives were "cuddling up" to people on the fringes of UK politics.

"They say you can judge a man or a woman by the friends they keep. Well, it is true of political parties too," he told a news conference in London.

[ image: Ian McCartney: 'New Labour is working for all the people of Britain']
Ian McCartney: 'New Labour is working for all the people of Britain'
"While New Labour is working for all the people of Britain, the Tories line up with an increasingly narrow group of hardline supporters - extreme Eurosceptics, tax exiles, those who think tax exemptions for private health and education are more important than better public services for all, supporters of blood sports and handguns."

Mr McCartney said Tory former Cabinet Minister Michael Portillo had said at the weekend that Conservative ex-Chancellor Kenneth Clarke would be better off in the Labour Party than in the Tories.

Britain needed to know whether Tory Leader William Hague agreed, the minister said.

'Tories a sect, not a party'

New Health Minister Gisela Stuart said the Tories' "new extremism" would put Labour's progress on the National Health Service at risk.

She said former shadow Health Secretary Ann Widdecombe was in favour of encouraging people to pay to see their GP and this had won her promotion to shadow home secretary in Mr Hague's recent reshuffle of his team.

Ms Stuart declared: "The Tory Party has now become a sect, not a party, and the shadow Cabinet is the most right-wing in living memory."

The Labour offensive comes after the prime minister wrote to all of his new ministerial team telling them to campaign actively during the Summer as well as getting to grips with their new departmental briefs.

But Mr McCartney denied the move was in response to Labour's poor performance in the European elections.

He said it was important to point out to the public that the Tories were getting "more and more extreme".

Ms Stuart insisted it was appropriate she spent one of her first few days in office attacking the Tories instead of tackling her new job.

She said she was "well on the way" to getting to grips with her new portfolio and added: "It is very appropriate to look at the policies the Tories are trying to implement and would have advanced if we had not had a Labour government in 1997."

Tories attack

But earlier Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Andrew Lansley said it was Mr Blair who had "lost the plot".

[ image: Andrew Lansley: Says the prime minister has 'lost the plot']
Andrew Lansley: Says the prime minister has 'lost the plot'
"He should know that, after Labour's failure to deliver on his election promises, he should be asking ministers to focus on their jobs.

The Tories are also do not intend to be idle over the summer.

They are planning to try to put the government under pressure while Parliament is in recess.

Mr Hague has put Miss Widdecombe in charge of leading the attack on Labour while he is on holiday.

On Monday, the Tories announced a "summer standstill watch" to try to highlight what they said were failings in the government's transport policy.

The new campaign will chronicle tales of stalled trains and long traffic tailbacks.

Mr Lansley said: "This summer the Conservatives will be concentrating on the facts about Labour's failure to deliver and on how we are preparing the policies for the next Conservative government."

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