Hague to face the ire of the shires

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The Independent Online
GRASSROOTS TORIES have accused William Hague and his Shadow Cabinet of lacklustre performance and ordered them to start landing punches on the Government.

The first signs of internal discontent about Mr Hague's leadership will surface tomorrow when the party publishes the agenda for its annual conference in Bournemouth next month. The agenda, leaked to The Independent, reveals that several local Tory associations are so frustrated with the Opposition's performance that they have publicly registered their dissent by tabling conference motions on the issue.

Although the 13 critical resolutions do not attack Mr Hague personally, insiders admit privately that some activists have submitted the motions as a warning that he must sharpen up his act. "It's a barely coded way of attacking the leader," one senior figure said.

Meriden Conservatives say the leadership must "dramatically improve its effectiveness in Opposition as the Government is too easily getting away with all its broken promises". They also doubt Mr Hague's reluctance to make policy commitments, saying the party should "urgently take steps to improve its public image and promote clearly defined policies more positively".

Tories in Lincoln urge the Opposition to be "more forthright" in exposing the Government's shortcomings, while the Halifax local party tells the leadership to "take the gloves off" at every opportunity, to expose the Government as `the shallow, hypocritical, pinky socialists that they really are" and the Winchester party calls on the conference to demand that the Shadow Cabinet adopt a "higher profile".

Tory sources expect the Northern Ireland spokesman, Andrew Mackay, to face criticism when he addresses the conference because he did not return from holiday immediately after the Omagh bombing.

Tory officials insisted that most of the motions tabled for the conference were supportive of Mr Hague's leadership, and said the Shadow Cabinet's performance had improved since his reshuffle this summer. They pointed out that the vast majority submitted on Europe were in line with his policy of opposing British entry into the single currency in this Parliament and the next.

Last night Mr Hague tried to outflank pro-European critics of the policy by attacking senior Conservative figures such as Sir Edward Heath, Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine for boycotting the campaign ahead of a ballot of the party's 300,000 members over the single currency.

The Tory leader told a meeting in Plymouth: "I don't have any time for people who stir up an argument and then, when the crunch comes and the moment of truth arrives, try to duck the decision."