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Clarke attacks Hague's `mad obsessions'

KENNETH CLARKE launched a savage attack on William Hague yesterday by warning that the failure to create a "credible party of government" would leave the Tories in the wilderness for a decade.

The former Tory chancellor compared the Conservatives to Labour in the Eighties and warned that they would not regain power unless they restored their broad appeal.

He accused the Tory leader of surrounding himself with a group of "way- out young ideologues" who had moved the party too far to the right. He said the Tories had to end their "mad obsession" with Europe if they were to stand a chance of regaining power.

Mr Clarke has said he would not leave the party, but after the defection of Shaun Woodward to Labour, the split between the pro- and anti-euro Tories threatens further defections. "The party has not yet found its way in opposition. It has not yet started recreating itself as a credible party of government, and it has to do so," Mr Clarke said. "I fear it has moved very strongly to the right. The great danger for the Conservative Party is to make sure that it does not imitate the Labour Party after 1979, when it lurched far too far to the left and made itself unelectable."

Mr Clarke's comments are the latest in a series of blows to Mr Hague's leadership. The Tory campaign for the mayor of London was left in chaos after the resignation of Lord Archer and the on-off selection of Steve Norris. Yesterday's announcement by candidate Andrew Boff that he would fight on an independent manifesto and not be bound by the leadership's policies has added to the confusion. Mr Clarke likened the final months of 1999 to the dying years of John Major's government, characterised by "unexpected accidents". The party had to start from scratch, work out policies on the big issues and find an identity that "isn't just a list of things that we are against, that isn't just a pandering to the right-wing sections of the press", he said.

"The target audience should be those people who used to vote Conservative, won't vote Conservative now but might be persuaded to vote Conservative again again."

Mr Hague needs to reconnect with the party's heartland by reclaiming the political centre ground, he said.

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