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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 June, 2005, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
'Tories must show social justice'
David Willetts
Mr Willetts says the future of Conservatism has been ignored
The Conservatives need to focus as much on social justice and building a strong society as they do on the economy, Tory frontbencher David Willetts has said.

The shadow trade and industry secretary argued the combination could enable his party to dominate the "centre ground".

A trap laid by Tony Blair had made the Tories pursue a more free market view or 1950s social attitudes, he said.

Mr Willetts is using a speech to claim debate on the future of Conservatism has been dodged since 1997.

No leadership answer

Ahead of the event at the Social Market Foundation, he told BBC News too much focus in the last eight years had been on the party's leadership and organisation.

Fears of disunity had stifled debate on the nature of Conservatism but there was now an opportunity for "meaty" thinking on the issue, he said.

Ken Clarke
Ken Clarke says he has yet to decide on a leadership challenge

"Even if we were led by someone as charismatic as Lloyd George, even if we were as well organised as Tesco, there still comes a question of what we stand for," he said.

"My answer is we stand for a combination of a flexible and strong economy and a strong society.

"And it is that second element, a strong society, that matters as much, that people have not heard about so much from us in the recent past."

'Centre ground'

Mr Willetts said Mr Blair had tried to combine economic efficiency and social justice with New Labour's "Third Way" approach.

That combination had "endlessly driven the Conservative Party either to say we are just going to be more free market than him or to say we are going to be a bunch of backward looking people who want to recreate British society as it was in the 1950s".

He argued the Third Way had not worked and the Tories could dominate the "centre ground" by successfully combining a strong economy and strong society.

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major's has stressed the need for the Tories to regain the centre ground.

Shadow home secretary David Davis on Wednesday said his party should instead focus on the "common ground", but later said he was simply rejecting the premise of a question framed in terms of moving to the Right or Left.

Candidates?

Mr Willetts refused to say whether or not he would stand in the Tory leadership election - due after the party's autumn conference.

"We are not into a leadership contest, we are talking about the future of the Conservative Party," he said.

Former Chancellor Ken Clarke said Mr Davis appeared to have been running for the leadership for about six months.

Mr Clarke told the ITV News Channel he would declare whether he would stand for the leadership in a "couple of months time".

"I'd very much like to be leader of the Conservative Party, I'd like to be prime minister but you can't keep standing.

"And as I said when I said I was giving up the only vice I was prepared to abandon, the habit of coming second in Conservative leadership elections doesn't appeal to me."




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