End of term warnings to the troops

Hague: `Time to end the sleaze and disunity'
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Indy Politics
William Hague yesterday warned the Conservative Party that he intended root-and-branch change to tackle sleaze, organisational disunity and a lack of democracy.

He told a meeting of MPs, peers, activists and workers at the party's Westminster headquarters that they had to equip themselves for the modern age. "We must be true to our past, but in touch with our future," Mr Hague said.

"We must be fresh, open, clear, clean, outgoing and listening in our manner; all of which must be fully reflected in the organisation we present to the wider world."

That a meant a shake-up and a clean-up, with an end to foreign donations; greater central discipline; one-member, one-vote procedures; more women MPs; and more MPs from the ethnic minorities.

"For the first time in our party's history," Mr Hague said, "each and every one of our members will have a direct say - a vote - on the future of their party ...

"At the end of September I will seek the endorsement of every member of the party both for my leadership and for my principles of reform."

He said the ballot would be secret, and the result would be announced at the party conference. "The party can back me or sack me," he said.

There is no chance of a sacking, and there is every chance Mr Hague will be given the plenipotentiary powers he is seeking, to stamp out poor organisation and the lingering perception of sleaze.

In an attempt to reassure local associations, he said he did not plan to ride roughshod over their jealously guarded authority, including the power to select candidates.

But he warned: "In exceptional circumstances, the party needs power either to suspend or to expel ... we will never seek to use these powers to remove from our party those political dissidents or parliamentary mavericks who, however frustrating their behaviour may be for the leadership of the day, can be a source of Conservative strength to the Conservative cause in the long term.

"But nor can we find ourselves in a position where sustained controversy in a single constituency blackens the name of the whole Conservative Party."

Mr Hague said his six principles of renewal were: unity, decentralisation, democracy, involvement, integrity and openness, and he said: "No reform is not an option."

An immediate endorsement was given by John Major, who said: "I strongly approve of these reforms to the party and urge everyone to accept and support them. Some will be controversial, but their time has now come; all are welcome. They are an essential prerequisite to prepare the party for the future and for a return to government."

But there was one notable omission from the speech - in spite of the new leader's promise to deliver a frank and brutal examination of the reasons for the May electoral defeat, he made no mention of the issue of Europe, which helped to present the image of a fatally fractured party to the electorate.

Mr Hague said: "We have to understand, without any trace of self-delusion, why the electorate, when they felt better off and still embraced our ideas, nonetheless wanted to be rid of us. The simple fact is that the voters believed we were divided among ourselves."

He also said that the new Blair-Ashdown Cabinet committee meant the Liberal Democrats had walked into Labour's trap, making it more apparent than ever "that we are the only alternative to Labour".