Hague tries `regular guy' relaunch

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM HAGUE'S public image will undergo yet another revamp tomorrow amid Conservative fears that Tony Blair's tough stance on Kosovo has made Labour more popular than ever.

In place of the stiff, dour persona for which the Tory leader has become infamous, he will be relaunched as a more down-to-earth "regular guy" in touch with the ordinary voter, his aides have announced.

The new approach, which will involve more public appearances with his wife, Ffion, will be unveiled when Mr Hague kicks off the Conservatives' campaign for next month's local elections.

The move follows worries that Labour will benefit from a "Kosovo effect" in the 6 May elections, just as the Tories swept the board in the aftermath of the Falklands War.

Mr Hague's hopes of using the European elections to boost his party's standing will be hit today by the announcement by pro-Euro rebels that they will stand candidates in every seat in June. The breakaway Pro-Euro Conservative Party will field 71 candidates in England, enough to qualify for a party election broadcast, which could split the Tory vote.

The new Hague style, which is the brainchild of his new director of communications, Amanda Platell, will attempt to use the local and European elections to portray the Leader of the Opposition as a warm, accessible public figure.

"We have to demonstrate that he is not just some one- dimensional parliamentary performer. He is someone who went to a state school, who is in his element talking to regular people," one adviser said.

Instead of attending the campaign's official press conference, Mr Hague will go on the first of a series of visits outside London that will see him meeting young people.

Despite previous, much- ridiculed attempts to project a less stuffy image, including the notorious pictures of him at the Notting Hill Carnival and wearing a baseball cap at a leisure park, he will be seen more often in casual dress than a suit and tie. A fly-on-the-wall documentary will be made and he will conduct more interviews with women's magazines.

Michael Ancram, the Tory party chairman, admitted yesterday that Mr Hague was "perhaps not being noticed as widely as he should be.

"This is why we want to get him out and around and use the elections to do that in a way that is more visible than the way he has been doing it since he became leader," Mr Ancram told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend programme.

The Prime Minister will launch Labour's local elections campaign today with a warning that unless the Tories gain at least 1,500 seats, Mr Hague's leadership will have failed its biggest electoral test to date.

Mr Blair will declare that the Government is willing to see the council elections, as well as the votes for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, as a referendum on its ability to deliver its promises.

Although Labour is expecting some losses in the local elections, Mr Blair is taking a high-profile role. At Labour's elections launch at Millbank, he will be accompanied by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Margaret Beckett, the Leader of the Commons.