Page last updated at 15:36 GMT, Monday, 29 December 2008

Hague: Tories are party of action

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague
Mr Hague said the Tories had made real progress in 2008

William Hague has defended the Tories' economic policies, saying the party has led the way in offering solutions to help people through the downturn.

He said the Tories were a party of action not inaction, as Labour has claimed but said some voters may have "rallied" to Labour recently.

If the Tories win power, they will face the worst financial legacy of any peacetime government, he added.

The poor state of the public finances was "sobering", he added.

'Do-nothing tag'

The Conservatives have attacked Gordon Brown for going on what they have called a "borrowing binge" and have said huge government debt levels will be paid for by sharply higher taxes in the future.

They have put forward proposals to free up bank lending and help businesses but have been accused by Labour of not having an alternative plan for dealing with a likely recession.

What has happened is a very steady and improving Conservative advance on a scale we have not seen for 30 years
Shadow foreign secretary William Hague

Speaking to the BBC, shadow foreign secretary Mr Hague rejected Labour's tag that the Conservatives are the "do nothing" party on the economy.

"I don't think that description has carried much weight because the Conservative Party, throughout, has been calling for action," he told Radio 4's World at One programme.

The Conservatives had been ahead at every stage of the debate over how to support the economy through troubled times, he added.

"We are not the 'do nothing' party" and I think [shadow chancellor] George Osborne has no problem dealing with that accusation."

Responding to a recent newspaper interview in which Mr Osborne suggested the Tories would look to cut taxes if elected, Mr Hague said it was premature to spell out the party's plans and stressed it would make clear how any future proposals would be paid for.

'Dire legacy'

However, Mr Hague said the poor state of the public finances would inevitably affect what a future Tory government could do.

"We are very conscious that, if and when we win the next election, we are going to inherit the worst financial position from any outgoing government that any new government has inherited, really, other than in the circumstances of a world war."

"That, of course, is a sobering realisation."

As the economic situation has worsened in recent months, he said it was clear that incumbent leaders around the world - including Gordon Brown - had seen a rise in public support.

But Mr Hague said the Tories had been consistently ahead in the opinion polls during the year and could be very "satisfied" about their performance in May's local elections and by-elections during 2008.

"What has happened is a very steady and improving Conservative advance on a scale we have not seen for 30 years."

Mr Hague also said Tory leader David Cameron had not tried to force shadow cabinet members to give up lucrative outside business interests such as company directorships.

Amid reports that shadow cabinet members hold more than 20 directorships between them, some party members have expressed concerns about the image this portrays at a time of sharply rising unemployment.

But Mr Hague said pursuing outside interests, such as writing books, had made him a "better" politician.

He added that his colleagues were "extremely hard-working" and that other interests did not get in the way of their full-time jobs of holding the government to account.

"These things are not contradictory," he added.

"I think actually you can gain in your effectiveness as a politician from a wider acquaintance with the world and from a degree of independence that having some outside interests gives."

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Political review 2008: Conservatives
29 Dec 08 |  UK Politics

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