Hague claims Blair's failure to stand up for 'Middle Britain' provides hope for the Tories

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Indy Politics

William Hague tried to stake a new claim for the Tories as the natural party of "Middle Britain" yesterday when he outlined his strategy for the general election.

The Tory leader told his party's spring conference in Harrogate that the Prime Minister's failure to stand up for Middle Britain was the Conservatives' "greatest political opportunity for many years.

"It is the failure of the one thing that gave New Labour any purpose at all. The failure of Tony Blair's attempt to make his party seem as if they understood what they called Middle Britain. As every day goes by, this Labour Government drifts further and further away from the values, expectations and opinions of Middle Britain.

"This failure, this drift, provides the Conservative Party with its greatest political opportunity for many years. We are going to punish Labour for abandoning Middle Britain. We are going to speak for the vast mainstream majority of the British people."

In his 45-minute speech, the Tory leader identified four main areas on which his party would fight the next general election, just over a year away - "keeping the pound", the so-called tax guarantee, tougher asylum policies and a promise to halt the tagging scheme for the early release of prisoners.

Stepping up his attack on the Government's "stealth taxes", Mr Hague claimed Labour tried to convince voters that calls for lower taxation amounted to "selfishness and greed", an idea which was an "absolute scandal".

Mr Hague sought to exploit recent polls showing that people had lost faith in Labour's delivery on the NHS despite the announcement in the Budget that it would get an extra £15bn. Party strategists later added that the Government's perceived failure was likely to form the fifth key element of the general election battle.

Many people were feeling "anger and disgust" at the Government's handling of the NHS, Mr Hague said. "Mainstream Britain feels betrayed by a government that has increased the NHS waiting list. They feel betrayed by a government that puts its political priorities before clinical priorities. When Tony Blair talks about the NHS it is the most blatant example of all of a man who is all mouth and no delivery."

Mr Hague, pledging he would match government spending on the public services, said he would speak to the Royal College of Nursing tomorrow to try to quell fears that his party wants to privatise the NHS. "We are totally committed to a comprehensive health service that treats patients on the basis of their clinical needs and is free at the point of delivery," he said.

Buoyed by the recent result at the Ayr by-election in Scotland, Mr Hague said there could be more success in the local elections next month. "With a strange but very satisfying irony the very strength this Prime Minister was keenest to boast about has been revealed instead as the seeds of his decay and destruction ... He sought to rise on the back of support that is a mile wide, but he will fall as he finds that support is an inch deep. He sought to portray himself as Everyman believing in everything and standing for everyone, but now we know he leads a bunch of nobodies who believe nothing and stand for no one."

The Tories would save £3bn alone in cutting the social security budget and by reducing the number of politicians, Mr Hague said. "The mainstream majority is fed up with a government that seems to get bigger and bigger, but can't get the fundamentals right."