Hague blames defeat on Major

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The Independent Online
John Major's Conservative government was tarnished by the perceived sleaze, greed, self-indulgence and division of society, the Tory leadership contender William Hague said last night.

His most brutal criticism of party failings was reserved for Mr Major's leadership. While trying to soften the blow by arguing that he was not criticising any individual, he said that his call for a fresh start meant uniting the party behind a clear position - rather than "fudge".

"One of the lessons of the past few years," he said, "is that it is easier to unite the party behind a clear position than a constantly shifting fudge."

Mr Hague told a meeting of Tory activists that he wanted to be the leadership choice of "the whole party", and that he wanted "to rebuild the Conservative Party to be the driving force in British politics and in world politics at every level once more".

But before embarking on the foundations on which the party could be rebuilt, Mr Hague went back over the causes of this month's "humiliating rout".

While Labour had been bequeathed the best economy since the First World War, and Britain had been changed for the better by 18 years of Conservative government, the Tories had failed, he said. "We were voted out of office because we lost the faith, the confidence, the goodwill of the electorate. Because we failed to communicate with people ...

"We were voted out for reasons of sentiment as well as substance. The free and prosperous society that we had championed became tainted with the image of sleaze, greed, self-indulgence and division. Some Conservative Members of Parliament appeared arrogant and detached from the grassroots of the party. After 18 years in power, our message of freedom was lost."

As for the political principles on which the party had to be rebuilt, Mr Hague said he wanted the Conservative Party to be the party of the environment, on the basis that "private owners are better stewards of the environment than the state".

A decent education was central to Conservatism, he said, and on the issue that still divides his party, "we need to be in Europe, but not run by Europe."

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