Tory right has taken power: Blair

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR'S government has "lurched to the right" and now has the most extreme programme in British political history, Tony Blair claimed yesterday.

Signalling a new offensive against the Conservatives' abdication of the middle ground, the Labour leader said: "Because no one took the right on, they have taken control.

"In effect, they say to Mr Major: 'you can have our support but only by surrendering on our terms'. Surrender he has."

Speaking at the opening of a new plant for the Daily Record in Glasgow, he said the Conservatives had already defined their election strategy: stirring up the race issue; seizing on law and order, not to improve life for citizens but to cause trouble for the Opposition; moving further away from the heart of Europe; tax cuts whatever the state of the economy; and more privatisation - even in the NHS.

"It may be clear blue water, but it is located at a further point from the political equator than any programme ever put forward by a mainstream British political party," Mr Blair said.

"This is the price of peace and unity that Mr Major has had to pay. He has yielded the policy agenda to the extreme right, and now ministers once described as left-wing are fielded to defend and promote this agenda."

Mr Blair's attack will be followed up tomorrow by the publication of a dossier listing the Conservatives' various "lurches to the right", including vouchers for nursery education and increased subsidies for private education.

Labour's new chief whip, Donald Dewar, is taking charge of launching the document, a recognition of the higher profile his job will take in the run-up to the election.

He will also unveil a list of right-wing Tory candidates for the general election who are supplanting "one-nation Conservatives" in Parliament. In 14 of the 43 constituencies where the sitting MP is retiring, or has died since 1992, hard-liners are replacing middle-of-the road or left- leaning Tories.

For instance, in Aldershot, Hants, Gerald Howarth, a Thatcherite fundamentalist, is taking over from Julian Critchley. In Essex, David Amess has joined the "chicken run" of Conservatives abandoning their existing seats for somewhere safer;he will take over Southend West from Paul Channon.

At Maidenhead, where Michael Trend is retiring, local Tories have turned down Sir George Young, the moderate Secretary of State for Transport, despite his family having lived there for 200 years. The seat will go to either Eric Forth or John Watts, both hard-liners searching for a safe berth.

Overall, the tendency is for moderates to be replaced by adherents of "the true faith", indicating a more Right-wing parliamentary Conservative party after the general election.

Mr Blair argued yesterday: "Mr Major may protest that he still wants to be in the centre ground, but he is now merely the helpless figurehead.

"Those driving the Tory agenda are nowhere near the centre. The Tory left - Mr Clarke, Mrs Shephard and Mr Dorrell - are all on their knees with no visible sign that they will get back off them.

"There is now absolutely no doubt whatever that the Tories have lurched to the right."

Alan Watkins, page 19