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The BBC's Nicholas Jones
"Mr Clarke said his party had moved very strongly to the right"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 28 December, 1999, 16:52 GMT
Clarke savages Hague's leadership

hague William Hague: Urged to ditch 'way out young ideologues'

Former chancellor Kenneth Clarke has launched a devastating attack on William Hague's leadership of the Tories saying the party is in danger of making itself unelectable.

Mr Clarke likened the last months of 1999 for the Tories to the dying years of John Major's government, characterised by repeated "unexpected accidents".

clarke Kenneth Clarke: Tory Europhile

He accused Mr Hague of surrounding himself with a group of "way out young ideologues" who had moved the party too far to the right.

Mr Clarke - who was beaten to the leadership by Mr Hague in 1997 - warned that the Conservatives under Mr Hague still had a long way to go before they could start winning back lost voters.

"The party has not yet found its way in opposition. It has not yet started recreating itself as a credible party of government and it has to do so," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme.

The hardest job in politics is to be leader of the opposition
Kenneth Clarke
The comments are certain to enrage Tory right-wingers who are already angry at Mr Clarke's participation in the cross-party pro-European Britain in Europe campaign.

Mr Clarke, a senior figure on the Tory left, dismissed the leadership's Eurosceptic policies as a "mad obsession".

And he called on the party to recognise that the UK's future prosperity depended on playing a constructive role within the European Union.

"I fear (the party) has moved very strongly to the right. The great danger for the Conservative Party is to make sure that it does not imitate the Labour Party after 1979 when it lurched far too far to the left and made itself unelectable," he said.

Mr Clarke said that the Tories had to start from scratch, working out policies on the big issues of the day.

Mr Clarke's attack will anger the Tory Party's leadership

He said Mr Hague needed to reconnect with the party's heartland by reclaiming the political centre ground.

"Just getting your head down and doing the work of opposition will do a great deal to get us under way again," he said.

"Get rid of some of the ideology and stop this mad obsession with Europe when everybody knows that the future of this country is destined to be playing a constructive role in the European Union."

Mr Clarke had some praise for Mr Hague, who he acknowledged faced an uphill struggle.

"William has all the intelligence, all the eloquence. He is a very good parliamentarian," he said.

But what he needs to do is just get back to the job of getting the right centre of gravity."

The party has not yet found its way in opposition. It has not yet started recreating itself as a credible party of government and it has to do so
Kenneth Clarke
The former chancellor's comments echo the warning of other senior Tories on the left of the party.

Mr Major as well as Chris Patten and Michael Heseltine have warned that the party's increasing Euro-scepticism could keep it out of office.

The latest comments come only a day after Mr Clarke issued a statement through Britain in Europe dismissing claims that the euro had been a failure as "preposterous".

His intervention may signal the end of any hopes by Mr Hague that he could maintain a truce with senior Tory left-wingers on the issue of Europe.

In a peacemaking gesture to the pro-Europeans following the defection to Labour of Shaun Woodward, Mr Hague had said he would "actively discourage" attempts by grassroots activists to deselect them, despite their opposition to his policy on Europe.

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See also:
13 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Patten reopens Tory wounds
11 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Clarke lashes Labour over euro group
18 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Another Tory wooed by Blair
26 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Portillo victory boosts Tories

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