Lilley stakes Tory claim to working-class vote

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The Independent Online
An attempt to win back the support of "Essex Man" was made yesterday by Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, with a claim that the Conservatives were the true party of the working class.

Dismissing Labour's claims that the Tories were only a middle-class party, Mr Lilley told the Scottish Conservative Party conference in Aberdeen that the party's appeal went far broader.

"We must make it clear. We Conservatives are the party of the hard-working classes. We don't care if they have blue collars or blue blood," he said.

The home of "Essex Man" - Basildon - fell to the Labour Party in last week's local elections, underlying the extent to which the Tories have lost the traditional support of the blue-collar Conservatives who put Margaret Thatcher in power.

Mr Lilley's remarks were seen as a signal that the Conservative Party's right wing, to which Mr Lilley belongs, will push for a more strident appeal to win back the working-class Tory supporters in the run-up to the general election.

The Secretary of State became the third Cabinet minister in two days to claim that plans by Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, to scrap child benefit for 16 to 18-year-olds from wealthy families would amount to a "teenage tax" costing families pounds 560 a year.

Ridiculing Labour's search for a solution to the problem of rising welfare spending, he said: "First they flirted with the Singapore model. Then with the Australian model. Now with the Japanese model. They have dallied with more seductive models than Andrew Neil (former editor of the Sunday Times). And their commitment lasts as long."

The search for a populist manifesto for the Conservative Party was highlighted in a question-and-answer session. Phil Gallie, the Tory MP for Ayr, won majority support in a straw poll of Tory representatives for a manifesto commitment to bring back the death penalty.

There was also strong support for silencing the Duchess of York and the Princess of Wales.