Tory Conference: Promise to scrap failed policies

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Party leaders yesterday promised to scrap failed policies on local government. Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent, reports on the Tories' policy U-turn.

Sir Norman Fowler, the former party chairman, yesterday admitted that the lofty attitude of the Tory administration to local government had been wrong. He also hinted that the Tories could abandon their commitment to capping of council spending.

"Let us be frank," he told the conference. "Too often in the past local government has been seen as the poor relation of Conservative politics."

Announcing a review of policy, he criticised the past government of which he was a member for failing to give Tory councillors the backing they deserved, and allowing ministers to visit local areas without telling Tory councillors.

"No more separation of national and local campaigning - we will win together or not at all," he said. As the shadow environment spokesman, Sir Norman committed the Tories to rebuilding the party with Tory council seats as its base.

A new policy group, including councillors, will examine every aspect of Tory policy on the town halls. It will look again at whether or not the Tories should support capping of every local authority, he added. Capping was introduced by the Tories to force councils to toe the Treasury line on spending, and it would amount to a substantial U-turn.

The rethink has been forced on the Shadow Cabinet by the gains made on 1 May in local elections, in spite of the landslide for Labour in the general election. That helped the Tories to regain control of some county councils including Surrey and Hampshire.

Sir Norman said the Tories will oppose the setting up of regional assemblies by the Government, which amounted to the creation of the `most powerful quangos this country has ever seen'.

Stephen Dorrell, education spokesman, said the Tories would oppose the introduction of student fees.

"It is introducing fees but has refused to give the assurance that it [the money] will go back into higher education.

There were also attacks on Labour for the private member's bill on banning foxhunting during a debate on the countryside.

A number of Tory women were cheered at the rostrum when they said they had been at the pro-hunting rally in Hyde Park.