Conservatives: Tory `war room' unveiled

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WILLIAM HAGUE'S determination to transform the Tory party into a credible election-winning machine was underlined yesterday with a big shake-up of his key strategists.

In a clear attempt to kick-start a fightback against the continuing popularity of Tony Blair, the Conservatives unveiled a new Central Office "war room" that echoes Labour's Millbank operation.

A brand new policy unit will be created to assess every area of policy, with a strategy and campaigns unit and beefed-up media department.

The moves follow concern by some MPs that the party's lacklustre performance in the polls has been compounded by serious misjudgements in Mr Hague's inner circle.

Michael Ancram, the party chairman, announced that a director of media would bring together for the first time a single media voice for both the leader and the party.

Attempts to recruit a high-profile journalist to act as a Tory equivalent of the Prime Minister's press secretary, Alastair Campbell, have been abandoned. Instead, Mr Hague's personal press secretary, Gregor Mackay, will assume overall responsibility for all press and broadcasting activities.

Two former leading figures in the Social Democratic Party have been appointed to bring "fresh blood" to Tory thinking. Daniel Finkelstein, former SDP strategist and the party's current head of research, becomes director of policy. The new director of research will be Rick Nye, a former associate of the SDP leader, David Owen.

Mr Ancram said: "We are putting into place the team which we hope will build a successful platform for the next general election campaign."