I'm not for turning, says defiant Hague

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WILLIAM HAGUE rejected calls for him to adopt a softer brand of "caring Conservatism" yesterday and vowed not to be blown off course by the defection of Shaun Woodward to Labour.

The defiant Conservative leader rejected Mr Woodward's accusation that he had dragged his party to the right. "These are not extreme policies. They are the mainstream policies of the people of this country and we will carry on campaigning for them," Mr Hague said.

He refused to change tack despite warnings from left-wing Tories that others could defect to Labour unless he adopted more tolerant policies.

Insisting the Tory programme was based on "honesty, integrity and principle", Mr Hague said: "I am never going to base the policies of our party and our approach on one individual holding a gun to our head."

Mr Hague said that if Mr Woodward wanted to act as "a man of honour", he would "do the honourable thing" and fight a by-election in his Witney constituency, where he had a majority of 7,028 in 1997. Last night, the Witney Conservative Association called on the MP to stand down but it is powerless to make him seek a new mandate before the next general election, when he hopes to fight a safer seat for Labour.

Mr Woodward spent yesterday in his constituency. As he signed his Labour Party membership form, he said he "simply could not remain in William Hague's right-wing Conservative Party any longer".

His parents, Dennis and Joan Woodward, both in their 80s, who had been lifelong Conservatives, joined Labour yesterday. The MP said: "I will be giving them membership of New Labour as a Christmas present. They are very proud of what I have done."