Howard to answer claims of opportunism

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Indy Politics

Michael Howard will seek to answer criticism that he is a "negative opportunist" with no coherent vision for Britain by showing how a Tory government would change it for the better.

Michael Howard will seek to answer criticism that he is a "negative opportunist" with no coherent vision for Britain by showing how a Tory government would change it for the better.

In a speech in London today, the Tory leader will try to allay fears in his own party that successful "guerrilla attacks" on issues such as immigration, crime, Gypsies and abortion have failed to dent Labour's lead in the opinion polls because the strategy has been too negative.

His deliberately upbeat message will be that a government led by him would "do the right thing" for Britain's "forgotten majority", saying "people who work hard, play by the rules and love their country with a quiet pride" deserve to be rewarded.

Tory MPs are delighted their party has set the agenda in the pre-election campaign. But some fear it has failed to make a breakthrough in the polls because it is using a "scatter-gun" approach and moves too quickly to the next issue.

Labour has branded Mr Howard a "serial opportunist" who jumps on every bandwagon to win newspaper headlines without saying how he would solve the problem he highlights. Privately, some senior Tories fear the label may stick.

Mr Howard will declare: "I'll carry on talking about fair play even though I'm attacked for it, because I won't be stopped from saying what I think is right. Putting the right values at the heart of government is central to my mission." He will insist he is "impatient" to see improvement in health and education , arguing that the Tories could "transform our nation" by reflecting the "commonsense values" of the forgotten majority. "Just imagine for a moment what our country would be like if the right values prevailed. It would be a liberation," he will say. "With lower taxes and regulation slashed, our people would be freed to make the most of their talents. With hard work rewarded properly and risk-takers cherished, our economic future would be rosier still."

Labour will step up its attack on Mr Howard in a speech by John Prescott today claiming that his "opportunism" raises serious questions about his judgement. The Deputy Prime Minister is expected to admit that he has had his differences with Mr Blair, but he will declare: "Tony Blair does not duck the complex issues. He confronts them. He does not exploit problems, he tries to solve them. He does not pander to prejudice, he challenges it. As a result, this is a stronger, better, fairer country than it was when we came to power."

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