Letwin admits that a Tory win would be 'miraculous'

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As comic timing goes, it was a masterpiece. Less than 24 hours after Iain Duncan Smith declared the Tories were a government-in-waiting, Oliver Letwin said yesterday it would be "miraculous" if his party won the next general election.

Taking self-deprecation to new extremes, the shadow Home Secretary injected the "humorous interlude" into his speech to the 1,000-strong Police Federation conference in Blackpool. The MP also admitted that Tory MPs had to be "naïve optimists" and joked that the Home Office should be blown up because it was so bureaucratic.

Mr Letwin said: "I would be standing before you and lying even more egregiously than politicians are meant to do if I were to tell you that upon becoming – if I were, as I hope, miraculously to become – Home Secretary two years from now." Mr Letwin was interrupted by laughter then said: "Conservative politicians, these days have to be naïve optimists at all times."

Referring to politicians' repeated pledges to cut red tape, such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace), he said: "I would be lying to you if I said that on becoming Home Secretary I would abolish the entire culture, which has governed this country for a very long time, of increasing attention to process.

"I would love to be able to tell you my first action on becoming Home Secretary would be to rip up the whole of Pace but it won't be. And anyway, if it were, I would be out of the Home Office – I'm in favour of blowing the building up – I would be out of the Home Office faster than you can say Iain Duncan Smith."

During the 2001 election, Mr Letwin gave Labour their main campaign attack when he claimed the Tories would cut the tax burden by £20bn. Last night, he said he was determined to counter the "over-pompous" approach of many MPs. Conservative Central Office said his remarks showed his "good sense of humour".

Ian McCartney, the Labour Party chairman, said Mr Duncan Smith's relaunch had backfired "in a miraculously short time". Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrats' parliamentary chairman, said: "After his last gaffe, Mr Letwin went into hiding for three months. A period of silence might be appropriate now."