Iain Duncan Smith warned the Conservative Party on Wedesday that it would have to become more inclusive towards black people and gays to regain the respect of the wider public.
The Tory leader told his party's annual conference in Blackpool: "I will be intolerant of those who are intolerant of others." He said he did not want to be "politically correct" but "politically effective". Aides said this was an admission that Tory attitudes towards black and gay people had not only alienated these groups but many other people too.
Mr Duncan Smith said: "We know that women, ethnic minorities and people of different lifestyles must have greater opportunity within our party, and I shall do everything I can to give this effect." However, he rejected calls for "quotas" of women to be included on the shortlist when local Tory associations choose parliamentary candidates.
In his first keynote speech since becoming leader last month, Mr Duncan Smith formally buried the strategy of his predecessor, William Hague, putting public services on top of his agenda and relegating Europe to a passing mention.
The former Scots Guards captain argued that his background as a public servant made him ideally placed to fulfil his "mission" to transform public services in the same way that Margaret Thatcher turned round the economy in the 1980s.
"Time has moved on. Now we face a different set of challenges: to tackle insecurity, improve economic stability and bring first-class public services to our people," he said.
Mr Duncan Smith raised the prospect that he would produce radical policies for health and education, arguing that the Tories would not be held back by "ideological baggage" like Labour. "We will bring an open mind to the task of reforming public services – but we will also bring the best of British innovation, enterprise and energy to our task," he said.
He said his Shadow Cabinet would examine the different models of public services around the world as to why they were better than Britain's. The Tories would draw on expert opinion and consult the people who ran Britain's public services as well as those who relied on them. He pledged: "We will find ways to achieve the high standards in our schools and in our medical care which a hard-working, self-respecting country deserves.
"We are the fourth richest country on earth. We should be providing public services that match those of our European neighbours, not those of the Third World."
Despite his emphasis on public services, Mr Duncan Smith won the biggest cheer of his speech when he promised that the Tories would "fight to keep the pound" whenever Tony Blair called a referendum on joining the single currency. In an appeal to his party to play down the euro issue, he argued: "The clarity of our position [on the single currency] means we can concentrate on the crisis in our hospitals, the failure in our schools and the crime on our streets, while others talk about a timetable for scrapping the pound."
Closing a conference overshadowed by the air strikes against Afghanistan, Mr Duncan Smith pledged unequivocal support for America, saying: "This is not about revenge; it is about justice; it is about doing what is right."
He issued a coded warning to the Prime Minister not to act as a restraint on America in order to retain the support of other nations. He declared: "International coalitions have their place and international approval is useful too. But our mission should shape the coalition, not the other way round. Diplomacy must be for a purpose and our purpose is to dismantle the apparatus of terror."
Mr Duncan Smith rounded on America's critics, saying its response to a grievous assault had been dignified, restrained and measured. "Who are these people to patronise a great nation in its grief?" he asked.
In a powerful attack on Osama bin Laden, he said: "His is a cynical and suicidal cult dedicated to the destruction of civilisations and lives, irrespective of their faith. This is a man who sends young acolytes to die for his own pathological purpose, while he himself skulks in caves. This is a man who prefers martyrdom at a distance."
Concluding his speech by setting out his personal vision, Mr Duncan Smith said: "At the heart of my Conservatism is a desire – one which is consuming and unending – to serve the nation as a whole. To serve by defending our institutions and upholding our traditions. To serve by extending the benefits of a free and prosperous life to every corner of the land.
"To serve, above all, by making Britain a place where all our citizens feel proud to belong, a place we love, and one which we want our children and our grandchildren to love, as passionately as we do.
"Today, this country is engaged in a ferocious conflict, a struggle for civilisation itself. We should remember why we are fighting, what we believe in and who we are. Let's keep faith with ourselves and our ideals. Let's keep faith with freedom."Reuse content