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Monday, October 4, 1999 Published at 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK


UK Politics

Hague follows Labour's lead

William Hague: Still not saying never on the euro

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

Before the last election Tony Blair made five pledges which a Labour government would fulfil by the end of its first parliament.

Not for the first time, William Hague has taken a leaf out of New Labour's "how to win elections" handbook - and come up with five guarantees a Tory government will meet in its first parliament.

Conference99
They cover virtually the same policy areas as Labour's promises - education, health, jobs and tax - but by far the most important for Mr Hague is the guarantee not made by Mr Blair, that he would not take Britain into the single currency in his first parliament.

He cannot quite bring himself to break the golden rule of politics and say "never" but that is clearly what a large proportion of his party want.

On the same day that leading Euro-enthusiast Michael Heseltine reaffirmed his commitment to Europe, Mr Hague won huge support for his five year "wait and see" policy.

It came from ordinary party members who, in a break with normal practice, were invited into the press launch of the Tories' new policy document "The Common Sense Revolution".

They were there to cheer on their leader, which they duly did, and to impress the media with the strength of their support for him.

Top priorities

But their presence also gave a clear indication of which parts of Mr Hague's new revolution are top of their list of priorities.

Number one by far was his guarantee to save sterling, closely followed by his promise to abolish Labour's regional assemblies - with the possibility exception of London's - and his pledge to put the family back at the centre of taxation policies.

Europe is still the issue that marks the Tories out from Labour and the Liberal Democrats and Mr Hague is convinced it could win him the next election.

But it also has the potential to pitch the Tories back into the lethal in-fighting which marked the demise of John Major's government.

Up to now the pro-Europeans, led by Mr Heseltine and ex-Chancellor Kenneth Clarke, have kept a low profile.

All that ends at this conference, with both men making significant appearances on the fringe with speeches that are certain to stir up the row.

Mr Hague will remain confident that, after last year's referendum of party members on the issue, his policy is now set.

Out of step

He will allow his critics to say their piece - it would be impossible to gag them in any case - but he will suggest they are out of step with the party.

But as the election looms closer, so the pressures on Mr Hague from both sides of the argument will increase.

There is now little doubt that a large number, possibly even the majority, would be happy for him to rule out membership of the euro on principle.

At the same time the Heseltine-Clarke faction will become ever more vociferous in their criticisms of the policy and will warn of what they believe would be the economic and political consequences of ruling out entry into the euro.

However, the document launch was undoubtedly a success for Mr Hague. So far his leadership has been a policy-free zone. He now has a fistful of pledges and guarantees which will form the basis of a coherent programme for government.

He has also taken a sizeable gamble in making guarantees instead of pledges which, he claims, Labour has shown can be all too easily broken.

What his detractors claim, of course, is that it he can make all the guarantees he like because there is no chance of him ever being able to put them into practice.



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