Tory MPs told to be tougher

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM HAGUE urged his party to become a more hard-hitting and effective Opposition yesterday as he launched a personal attack on Tony Blair for mishandling the economy.

The Tory leader said Mr Blair would have to take responsibility for his mistakes and squarely take the blame when policy, such as the Government's three-year spending plan, fell apart.

Speaking at the closing session of the party's two-day "bonding session" in Eastbourne, Mr Hague made clear that the worsening economic situation, electoral reform and the Government's failure to deliver on public services would be the key areas of Tory concern during the next parliamentary session. An aide said Mr Hague would tell MPs that the party had to "hammer home the message that the buck stops with Mr Blair.

The aide admitted that the Prime Minister's personal popularity was seen as the greatest challenge for the electoral comeback of the Tories but added that his potential weakness was his "wearing of borrowed Tory clothes". The new line of Tory attack was backed by Haley Barbour, former senior strategist of the Republicans in the United States, who masterminded the party's remarkable comeback in 1994 after a heavy defeat in the 1992 presidential election.

Comparing President Bill Clinton to the Prime Minister, he told Tory MPs: "When a crisis hits rock bottom and if you are the party that has true belief and values, then the electorate will ultimately turn to you and not the counterfeit."

Part of the increased focus on individual liberty will be the reprieve of the flaming "torch of freedom" logo of the party. After eight months of focus group research by the party's so-called brand audit, the leadership found the torch is perceived as a core image of Conservatism. A senior party source said the torch highlighted personal freedom as a key principle at a time when the public had seen the "over-bossy nature of Labour".