BBC to screen Tory clanger over Colorado school killings

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM HAGUE'S attempts to draw a line under the Conservatives' internal rows will be dashed yet again next month when a BBC fly-on-the- wall documentary will reveal the party at its worst.

Mr Hague has already asked the programme-makers to leave out some more sensitive incidents but BBC sources said they would refuse to do so. At one point, a strategist is shown telling colleagues that the shooting of schoolchildren in Colorado was a useful distraction from the Tory party's troubles.

BBC television cameras were given unprecedented access to private Tory party meetings during the most turbulent weeks of Mr Hague's leadership and filmed many of the behind-the-scenes rows about Peter Lilley's now infamous speech.

Senior Conservatives fear that the programme, How to be Leader of the Opposition, made by the veteran television journalist Michael Cockerell, will further undermine their leader's reputation by making the party appear still more "incompetent" and "chaotic". One MP said Mr Hague was "mad" to let the documentary-makers into meetings of party strategists and the Shadow Cabinet at a time when there were serious disagreements between members.

Further evidence of Mr Hague's desire to make a fresh start came yesterday when Gillian Shephard, who was John Major's Secretary of State for Education, announced that she would leave the Shadow Cabinet at the next reshuffle.

The shadow Environment spokesman said yesterday that she had decided to resign, at her own request, when the Tory leader next changes his front bench. She insisted she had told Mr Hague when she took the job that she only intended to stay until last week's local elections and that she believed he should "bring on new faces and talents as quickly as possible."

Michael Howard, the Tory Foreign Affairs spokesman, has also said that he wants to return to the backbenches.

Both shadow ministers - along with Mr Lilley, the Deputy Leader, and John Redwood, the shadow Trade and Industry spokesman - were rumoured to be on a "hit list" of people Mr Hague wanted to sack because they reminded voters of the last Conservative government.

Although Mrs Shephard, 59, complained angrily to the Tory leader about the reports at the time, she insisted yesterday that she had decided to leave the Shadow Cabinet more than a year ago. Promising to give "strong support" to the Tory leader from the backbenches, she said: "I wish William Hague and the Conservative Party well."

Party sources said yesterday that Mr Hague was not now planning a reshuffle until after next month's European Parliament elections. Ann Widdecombe, the Health spokesman, is among those tipped for promotion, possibly to shadow Home Secretary. Insiders said Archie Norman, the Tory deputy chairman, and Dr Liam Fox, the Constitutional Affairs spokesman, were likely to be given more prominent roles. Mr Hague is also keen to promote women such as Maidenhead MP Theresa May in an attempt to shed the impression that he surrounds himself with men.

Mr Lilley is likely to lose responsibility for the party's policy review and Mr Hague is under pressure to sack him altogether following his attack on the party's Thatcherite past. However, the Tory leader is thought unwilling to demote Mr Redwood because he might gain a following among right-wingers on the backbenches.