Hague challenges Blair: call poll now

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Tory leader William Hague today challenged Tony Blair to call a snap election - and made a passionate personal appeal to voters.

Tory leader William Hague today challenged Tony Blair to call a snap election - and made a passionate personal appeal to voters.

Mr Hague delivered a calculated attack on the Government and promised those who felt disillusioned by New Labour: "I'm in it for you."

In his keynote speech at the closing session of the Conservatives' annual conference in Bournemouth, Mr Hague declared: "We're ready for that election whenever Tony Blair now dares to call it. We're ready for it next autumn, we're ready for it next May, we're ready for it now. Go on, Tony, call it now."

The Tory leader chose not to announce a raft of new policy initiatives and instead appealed directly to "the common sense instincts of the people of this country".

He added: "The message coming loud and clear from this conference is that we are ready for Government."

Scorning Mr Blair's party, Mr Hague said: "New Labour was never a philosophy, it was a fashion. And nothing is more unfashionable than a fashion that's out of fashion.

"We saw them last week, divided, arrogant and out of touch. What a bunch they are - this soap opera of a Government."

The Tory leader confirmed pledges to boost pensioners' incomes and to cut taxes, but focused his speech on an explanation of his own personal philosophy.

"Come with me to the Rother Valley, to the heart of South Yorkshire," he said.

"See Rotherham, the industrial town I was born in. Visit Wath Comprehensive, the school that gave me a chance in life.

"Come and meet the people I grew up with, children of proud mothers who struggled with small budgets, who relied on the health service, and who hoped for a better life for their sons and their daughters.

"Children of fathers who worked hard in mines and on farms and in steel works, who never knew the security of owning a home or saving a pension, who had no choice but to live from one week's pay packet to the next."

In his lengthy, 50-minute address, Mr Hague made a carefully crafted bid to woo disaffected voters saying: "I don't promise the earth, I don't think we'll solve every problem, I don't think we'll avoid every mistake.

"I won't try to start new fads or fashions, I won't claim to be creating a new era. I just want to govern with the common sense instincts of the people of this country."

Mr Hague stressed: "We're ready to govern for all the people and we're ready to govern for all parts of the country."

His speech eclipsed rows yesterday over shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe's call for fixed penalty fines for all those found in possession of drugs, when the supposed darling of the conference saw her initiative badly backfire.

Mr Hague received a rousing standing ovation, as the 2,000 representatives sung Land of Hope and Glory and the Tory leader's wife Ffion joined him on stage.

But representatives also left Bournemouth remembering a thoughtful address from shadow chancellor Michael Portillo, who set out in measured terms his own vision of a more inclusive Tory Party, including all regardless of race, colour, creed or sexual orientation.

Tory business managers will now be anxiously watching the polls for signs of a boost for their party after what Mr Hague called: "The best, the most upbeat and the most successful Conservative conference in years."