Major gives a pledge to listen

PM plans grassroots tour in bid to restore support
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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR last night responded to mounting criticism that the Government is out of touch with voters in 'middle England' by giving a pledge to listen to his party's demands for a change in policies.

The Prime Minister's promise to listen signalled the anxiety in the Conservative Party leadership to staunch the haemorrhage of its support, but it was ridiculed by Jack Straw, the Shadow Home Secretary, who said if Mr Major did listen he would abandon privatisation of British Rail and the nuclear power industry.

Mr Major's attempt to reunite his demoralised party came as Tony Blair, pledged a "new understanding" with business based on a "new approach" from his party, and promised that industry would be fully consulted on the introduction of a minimum wage and the Social Chapter.

The Prime Minister's bid to raise his political stock was undermined by Norman Lamont, the former Chancellor, who warned the Prime Minister in the starkest terms that he would lose the election unless he returned to Thatcherite principles.

Mr Major said his Government was 'fizzing' with ideas for the next phase of Conservatism in his speech to a half-filled hall at the Scottish Tory Party conference in Glasgow.

But the main themes of the speech - a return of economic security, choice, commonsense values in law and order, public services, and 'pride in the nation' - were set out a month ago by Mr Major in Birmingham. They will be the framework for consultations with the party over the next 12 months, leading up to the Tory central council in 1996, when Mr Major said the agenda for the next manifesto would begin to be unveiled.

Mr Major plans to travel the country listening to grassroots complaints about policies and explanations for the Tories' unpopularity. Mr Blair will will also take to the road in a nationwide tour to Chambers of Commerce and local CBIs to "listen and consult" and promote a seven-point agenda for partnership with business. "I believe that as a result of that dialogue, it will be clear that in Britain today, Labour means business," he said. Mr Major is planning personally to meet groups of ordinary members at meetings across the country in a post-local election change of strategy partly designed to exploit opinion poll indications that he is personally more popular than the government as a whole.

While planning is in an early stage, the Prime Minister's strategy will invite comparisons with Tony Blair's decision to address hundreds- strong groups of members personally during his successful Clause IV campaign

The Prime Minister issued a rallying cry to his 'shock troops' to defend the Union against devolution, but the centrepiece of his 'fight back' speech in Glasgow was the "listening" tour. "I will be the first leader in our party's history to give every member in every constituency an historic opportunity - an invitation to help shape the policies of the future," Mr Major said.

Mr Lamont underlined right wing pressure for a more clearly-defined right wing stance. "The one way of ensuring a Labour victory is to have contest between two social democratic parties. An election fought as a beauty contest could have only one outcome - age would lose to beauty," Mr Lamont said.

Challenging another theme in Mr Major's speech, the former Chancellor said it was no use complaining that Tony Blair's Labour Party had run off with Conservative policies. "For a start, I do not think it is tue," Mr Lamont said.

It would be complacent to expect economic recovery to revive the party's hopes, he added. Mr Lamont called for cuts in public spending to fund cuts in taxes.

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