Tories deny Hague stole Labour idea

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The Independent Online
AS WILLIAM HAGUE gathers his MPs for a "woolly jumper" session at Eastbourne today, he has become entangled in a row over whether he was guilty of stealing lines for his speech to the Tory party conference from Gordon Brown.

In his speech at Bournemouth, the Conservative leader used the expression "the British way" 22 times. This was used no fewer than 18 times by Mr Brown in his Spectator/Allied Dunbar lecture.

The Chancellor said he was "quite surprised" to hear Mr Hague using his theme. "There is no doubt I was quite surprised to see the similarities," he said on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost. "Perhaps an over-zealous researcher has taken my theme, the British way, the golden thread running through history."

In his speech, Mr Brown said: "The British way is to encourage the creative talents of all..." Mr Hague said: "The British way is not uniformity..."

Mr Brown said: "The British way is to encourage and enhance the status of voluntary and community organisations... the small platoons." Mr Hague said: "The British way is about small government and bigger citizens."

Dismissing claims of plagiarism, a Tory party spokeswoman said: "Certainly not - these are scurrilous accusations."

There will be more grim reading for Mr Hague today in a Tory think-tank warning that the party's general election defeat was even worse than they feared. The report by the Centre for Policy Studies challenges the notion that the Tories lost the election because 2 million Tory voters stayed at home. It says that the Conservative vote collapsed because 3.5 million former Tory voters defected to new Labour; the drop in Conservative support was higher in safe Conservative seats than in safe Labour seats.

The report is aimed at strengthening Mr Hague's case for winning back Tory voters by delivering "bold, imaginative policies". Mr Hague will tell his MPs that they must focus on "a new Conservative agenda" on public services including health and education, and on the Government's economic failure and its "constitutional vandalism".

But his speech will be read with dismay by some Tory MPs, who may feel that instead of developing into a right-wing anti-Europe party they would do better to fight Labour for the centre ground on which it won the election, behind a centre-left leader such as Kenneth Clarke.

However, the authors of the report, Nick Sparrow, managing director of ICM, the Tory party's private polling company, and Tim Hames, say it was "exceptionally unlikely" a revolt against Euro-scepticism was a factor. More worrying for Mr Hague, the trend away from the Tories was apparent in local elections in the four previous years.

Leading article, Review, page 3