Rebels to Hague: Where's the beef?

Tory party: Left-wingers bemoan `policy vacuum' while Shadow Cabinet brain-storms
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The Independent Online
TORY LEFT-WINGERS will open a new front in their battle with William Hague tomorrow by accusing him of failing to set out a clear vision of what the party stands for.

Stephen Dorrell, a former cabinet minister, will tell a meeting of the Tory Reform Group that the party must urgently fill its "policy vacuum" and will not win the next general election merely by opposing Labour's actions.

His move comes as other pro-Europeans told Mr Hague that his decision to ballot party members on his policy on a single currency would backfire and not end the party's civil war over Europe.

Mr Hague has deliberately avoided making policy commitments, saying that voters are "not listening" to his party, and intends to keep them to a minimum for another year.

Mr Dorrell will argue that the Tories have not come to terms with the "seismic changes" caused by the global economy and the limited power of politicians to shape events. "Of course, the Conservative Party has to oppose the Government, but it must also set out its own position and a vision of how it would shape society."

He will say: "Simply hoping that a Conservative government will be elected on the wheel of fortune will not be enough."

Last night, Mr Dorrell said his speech was not an attack on Mr Hague. But it will not be welcomed by him as he tries to prevent his party's conference next month being dominated by internal disputes.

Yesterday, Mr Hague told Tory pro-Europeans they would become isolated figures if they campaigned for Britain to join the single currency after the party ballot endorsed his policy of staying outside it in this parliament and the next. They would be "on their own" and would get "short shrift" from the rest of the party.

Mr Hague, who plans 100 events during a three-week referendum campaign, told the Shadow Cabinet at a strategy session that a good majority was in the country's interests as well as the party's.

John Major rallied to Mr Hague, saying: "We cannot afford a continuation of the disputes that crippled us in the last Parliament."

But Chris Patten, the former governor of Hong Kong, said he would vote "No", adding: "I hope it will help to drain the poison but it will not end the discussion and debate."