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Tuesday, 2 May, 2000, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
Hague turns on critics
William Hague
William Hague: "Voters know exactly what I'm saying"
Conservative leader William Hague has defended his comments on asylum seekers ahead of Thursday's elections, saying that they represent the views of the voters.

In a defence of his recent comments amid flak from all sides, Mr Hague said that the was addressing issues of concern to all parties.

Mr Hague told the BBC he was expressing the "common sense instincts" of all voters rather than right-wing extremists.

The Conservatives are hoping to make major gains in 152 councils in England as well as retaining the seat of Romsey in the parliamentary by-election.

War of words

Mr Hague launched his defence before a visit to Romsey where he was expected to accuse Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy of taking his party to the "extreme fringes of the political debate".


I believe the flow of asylum seekers into the country is out of control.

William Hague
In return, Mr Kennedy, who believes his party can win the seat previously held by Tory MP Michael Colvin, has accused Mr Hague of being "immature, dangerous and indulging in irresponsible politics".

But Mr Hague said: "These are not right wing themes.

"Labour voters and people who voted Liberal Democrat in the past are saying to me these are the sort of things you should be raising.

"These people are not right-wingers, they are not extreme right-wingers, these are things people across the country are worried about.

"It is important to raise these issues. We are not a party which has been having electoral difficulty over the past year. We are the party that's been winning elections."

Kennedy
Charles Kennedy will also visit Romsey
He continued: "We are now building on that success, hope to build on that success on Thursday.

"We're doing it by raising issues which reflect the common sense instincts of the people of the country and we'll be going on to raise many other issues over the coming months."

The Tories and Labour have both been reported to the Commission for Racial Equality for the language they have used in the asylum debate.

Mr Hague said he had always been careful in the language he used when speaking about asylum seekers.

"I believe the flow of asylum seekers into the country is out of control.

"We have not been able to distinguish quickly enough and easily enough between genuine refugee and the bogus asylum seeker and ... a flow out of control is a flood."

Mr Hague said voters knew "exactly what I'm saying and they don't have xenophobic motives and think all asylum seekers are wrong".

He said the subject had arisen because of the incompetence of the government and it was his duty to speak out about it.

"It is my experience that there are a lot of people in this country who have despaired about anyone speaking up for them about asylum, about crime, about the way their council taxes are going up and so on.

"The reason why they have cheered me on is because they have found someone to speak up for them."

The Tory candidate for London mayor, Steve Norris, defended Mr Hague, saying there was a "genuine feeling" that the Conservatives were "getting back into winning ways" under his leadership.

He said he would urge Mr Hague to keep the Tories a "compassionate and tolerant" party as it aimed to appeal beyond its core voters.

But he added: "I do think we have got to have a serious debate about the issues which are being raised in relation to seeking political asylum."

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William Hague
"These are not right wing themes."
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01 May 00 | UK Politics
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