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The Conservative leader, William Hague
speaks to John Humphreys on the BBC's Today programme
 real 28k

Thursday, 17 May, 2001, 23:03 GMT
Keep cool, says Hague

William Hague: "We're having a very good campaign"
Conservative leader William Hague has urged deputy prime minister John Prescott to "learn to keep his cool" following the brawl in north Wales.

"If he was in my party I would publicly demand and require an explanation," Mr Hague said.


If politicians weren't allowed to change their policies during opposition Tony Blair would never be allowed to open his mouth

William Hague
The Tory leader was commenting after Mr Prescott landed a punch on a protester who threw an egg at him outside a Labour Party meeting.

Mr Hague said Mr Prescott was probably "rattled" at the end of a day in which Tony Blair was confronted by an angry voter in a Birmingham hospital and Jack Straw was heckled by an audience of police officers.

"I think he should learn to keep his cool," said Mr Hague.

"But everyone in public life is provoked."

During the interview, on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Hague insisted he was not put off my his party's poor showing in the opinion polls.

"We are doing far better than at the last election," said Mr Hague.

Better shape

"We are having a very good campaign. This election is about the opinion of real people - when you go out and meet some real people, they aren't enthusiastic about the government."

The Tory leader said that the party was in far better shape to fight an election than when it lost by a landslide in 1997 because it was speaking with one voice on Europe.

"The change is that we are committed to being in Europe, and not run by Europe with an overwhelmingly united party."

Former Tory MP John Townend
John Townend - forced by Hague to apologise
He accepted that many Conservative policies - including rejection of the minimum wage - had changed during the last four years but said that was a normal part of preparing for an election.

"If politicians weren't allowed to change their policies during opposition Tony Blair would never be allowed to open his mouth," said Mr Hague.

He refused to be drawn on what a Conservative government would do beyond the next parliament, even when asked whether he would keep the UK's independent nuclear deterrent.

"All of our policies are policies for the next parliament," he told John Humphreys.

Asked whether shadow chancellor Michael Portillo would make a good leader of the party, Mr Hague repeatedly said there was "no vacancy" and added that there were a "great many people" who could do the job.

Mr Hague rejected suggestions that he had shown weak leadership in the way he dealt with John Townend the former MP who started a row about race with his comments about asylum seekers.

"I said, 'I don't agree with you, shut up' and he didn't shut up so I next said, 'if you say it again you are out of the party.'"

Speaking to party workers later in Peterborough, Mr Hague said Labour had come "face to face with reality" on Wednesday.

"It's taken four years for the mask to slip but the British public can now see New Labour for what they are - a gigantic hoax puffed up by arrogance, contempt and vanity."

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17 May 01 |  Vote2001
In pictures: Prescott's fracas
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