Hague says Tories will be party of tolerance

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William Hague endorsed Michael Portillo's call for the Tories to show greater tolerance towards homosexuals yesterday and said the party's new inclusive approach would not be a "one-week wonder".

William Hague endorsed Michael Portillo's call for the Tories to show greater tolerance towards homosexuals yesterday and said the party's new inclusive approach would not be a "one-week wonder".

But the Tory leader insisted that he would not drop the party's opposition to Labour's plans to repeal Section 28, which bans local authorities from promoting homosexuality.

Speaking in Cardiff, Mr Hague said: "I see no contradiction, and nor do most people, in saying of course we respect people of different sexual orientation, but we don't want Section 28 repealed." His speech was an attempt to bridge the divide between Mr Portillo, the shadow Chancellor, who has developed a brand of "caring Conservatism" and Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary, who favours a more hardline approach on social issues.

But Mr Hague rejected what he called "the stale and artificial distinction" between "soft" and "hard" issues. He said: "I do not accept the equally false distinction that is sometimes made between respecting the lifestyle decisions of individuals and championing mainstream values. Conservatives should do both for weare neither libertarians norauthoritarians."

Mr Hague insisted there was no contradiction between refusing to dictate how people should lead their lives, and pledging to change the tax system to support marriage.

The Tory leader said: "Defeating political correctness and refusing simply to accept every demand from every pressure group is not in contradiction with respecting different lifestyles and celebrating different ethnic cultures. Conservatives understand that championing mainstream values is the championing of tolerance mutual respect and the rich diversity of our country."

He conceded that the Tories needed "to talk about other issues than crime and tax and Europe, issues which may not always have been seen as 'our issues'." He cited health, schools and tackling deprivation and drug abuse in inner cities. When this month's Tory conference discussed these subjects, "that was no one-week wonder", he said.

Mr Hague insisted the Tories were more in touch than Labour with the instincts and common sense of the people. "While they increasingly retreat into their Whitehall bunkers, we are consciously leaving behind the Westminster beltway to take our message to the wider country," he said.

He promised a totally new approach to the next general election, saying the Tory campaign would start immediately.

Ian McCartney, a Cabinet Office minister and Labour's campaigns co-ordinator, dismissed Mr Hague's commitment to "One Nation" Conservatism. "His last bandwagon hit the buffers at the Conservative conference when Ann Widdecombe dragged Mr Hague from zero tolerance to zero credibility in the space of a couple of days," he said. "How long he will ride his new One Nation bandwagon before he jumps off or is knocked off by one of the factions in his divided party?"

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