Hague rejects Tory warnings over lurch to the right

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Indy Politics

William Hague rejected a warning yesterday by a former cabinet minister to adopt a more "moderate" tone or throw away his chances of winning the next election.

The Conservative Party leader made clear he will not soften the campaign stance aimed at "core voters" including attacks on abuses byasylum-seekers, opposition to the euro, and more support for home owners to defend themselves against burglars.

Mr Hague's strategists believe his campaign paid dividends in the local elections, delivering Conservative control in councils such as Southend-on-Sea. The Prime Minister has privately admitted that some of the Tory attacks have "connected" with voters.

But the Conservatives' stunning defeat by the Liberal Democrats in the Romsey by-election - the first time the Tories have lost a seat in Opposition since 1965 - is seen by Mr Hague's critics as a warning that he must widen his appeal for the next election.

Steven Norris, the Tory candidate who forced the counting of second-preference votes before Ken Livingstone could claim victory as Mayor of London, stressed that he owed his success to running an "inclusive, liberal open campaign" that avoided alienating ethnic minorities and gays.

His message was reinforced yesterday by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former Tory foreign secretary, who urged his party in Scotland to aim for moderate and uncommitted supporters of the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party.

"To win their support will require hard effort, attractive policies and a moderate rhetoric," Sir Malcolm, president of the Scottish Tories, said in Stirlingshire. "That is also the task of the Conservative Party as a whole as we approach the general election."

Mr Hague rejected the criticism on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme, insisting he was carrying out a "one-nation" Tory campaign.

Commenting on the case of Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who was jailed for life for shooting dead a burglar, Mr Hague said: "I am not encouraging people to have weapons in their homes. I am saying, you should know when you are caught in that awful situation that the law should err on your side."

Meanwhile, the Government was accused by one of its backbenchers of following the Tories to the right, particularly on asylum-seekers. Paul Flynn, the MP for Newport West, told BBC Radio 4's The World this Weekend: "We are retreating to an area of politics which is very much on the right wing. We need a government with a little more courage to take on what we know to be wrong."

Bill Morris, the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, also warned Labour against trying to match Tory rhetoric. "We will never, as a party of principle, put together an immigration policy to satisfy Ann Widdecombe [the shadow Home Secretary]."