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Thursday, 10 May, 2001, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Hard core Hague
William Hague
How wide can Mr Hague stretch his appeal?
Mark Mardell

Each to their own.

Tony Blair chose to make his first big election announcement in a fake church.

William Hague plumped for an ultra modern stage set that looks like double glazing fed hallucinogens and growth hormones, weird extrusions of glass and metal sticking out at sharp angles.

The manifesto is fascinating, even before you open it and start reading

In the middle, what appears to be a gigantic silver cleaver stuck in the stage.

Not surely a hidden message about cuts, but Mr Hague probably would dearly love to be leader of the Conservatory Party.

If the millions of relatively well-off retired people sitting sunning themselves surrounded by spider plants and cane furniture come to his aid, nodding in agreement at his talk of common sense and political correctness gone mad, then he will be the leader of a bigger movement than his own dwindling band.

And whether or not that is the message of the glass and steel it is his real intention.

The manifesto is fascinating, even before you open it and start reading.

The front cover, despite its colours of blue and yellow, is very "New Labour circa 1997", a series of snaps of modern Britain.

Tory staples

A happy denim-clad family cuddle a toddler in a Gap sweat shirt, a black policeman and his colleague chat to a smiling grey haired woman, a younger woman in a wheelchair is at work at a computer screen, an Asian woman and her baby talk to a handsome young doctor.

This goes with all the promises to improve not only the Tory staples of law and order and family life but also health and education.

And a more than heavy hint at a belief in diversity (which is code for dealing rather severely with people like John Townend).

You have to turn to the back or flip it open for the hard core stuff. The stuff that gets the traditional Tory heart beating a little faster.

You have to turn to the back or flip it open for the hard core stuff

There a child's hand grips the wrinkled hand of an elderly woman. There is an aerial shot of our green and pleasant land, a white van passes parliament, and of course a Union Flag.

The latter is a graphic designer's idea of the Union Jack cropped to resemble (from memory) more closely the Faeroe Islands flag, but no matter... the message is clear : save the pound, no more political correctness, the European Union has reached a fork in the road.

Mr Hague's speech mirrored exactly this mixture.

A strong, right-wing, Conservative message of fear for his country's future, focusing as ever on tax cutting and personal freedom, while arguing that Labour had failed on its own chosen territory of health and education.

A message where the mantra is common sense.

Having fun

This is the Conservative conundrum, the flip side of Labour's dilemma at the last election: how to offer something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

While Labour had to, and still have to, suggest they can improve public services without putting up taxes, Mr Hague has to hint that he can cut taxes without hurting public services.

Mr Hague looked as if he was enjoying himself, and one senior Conservative politician told me that he was having the best fun in 25 years starting as the underdog.

True, they wouldn't chose to start from here but it does mean, he continued, that in line with Labour's song last time round "Things can only get better".

I can already feel cups of tea being put down firmly on saucers, digestives abandoned, as a new legion emboldened by talk of tax cuts and common sense make their way from the conservatory to the patio.

Getting them as far as the voting booth is the next task, and Mr Hague has exactly a month to do it.






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