Hague unveils his `caring Conservatism'

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM HAGUE will answer his Tory critics by unveiling a new brand of "caring Conservatism" during a five-day North American tour starting tonight.

The Tory leader, facing growing criticism from his MPs after failing to slash Labour's commanding lead in the opinion polls, will argue that the party can no longer rely on its traditional economic competence to propel it back into power.

He will say that the Tories must convince people that they hold the right values and the new policies to tackle social issues such as health, education, welfare, crime, the inner cities and the underclass.

"In the 1980s, the problems facing Britain were on the economy, but today there are different challenges," said an aide yesterday.

Details of Mr Hague's new agenda emerged in an internal party report, leaked to The Independent, which suggests that the Conservatives will water down their long-held support for the free market.

"Although the market is one of the most useful tools we have, it is just that - a tool," says the report, sent by Conservative Central Office to local activists as part of a policy consultation exercise. "Conservatives do not worship the market as an end in itself; they value it as a useful means to an end."

The report continues: "The Government should stand ready to intervene in the market in the interests of economic efficiency or because some other aspect of our well-being depends upon it - provided that a strong case can be made."

During his trip to the United States, Mr Hague will hold talks with Republican strategists and politicians in the hope of learning lessons on how the right can fight back against the centre-left, now in the ascendant in Europe and America. He will meet George Bush Jr, the Governor of Texas and son of the former US president, who broadened Republican appeal through "caring" policies such as a big drive to improve literacy in schools.

Mr Hague will make speeches on "the right way" - his response to Tony Blair's trumpeted "third way" and on "common sense Conservatism".

The Tory leader will stress that "compassion" does not necessarily mean higher spending, adding that, while adequate funding is an issue, new ways must be found to tackle social problems.