Major lays claim to nation's trust

Click to follow
A concerted election campaign effort to undermine public trust in Tony Blair was opened up by John Major yesterday. In repeated attacks on the Labour leader, Mr Major patronised his opponent as "young Mr Blair", a man who had never done a "real job" of work in his life, and accused him of using the language of crusade, dream and passion as a cover for lack of substance.

"At the election," Mr Major told a jam-packed conference at Bournemouth, "there's a central question. It's this: who can best be trusted with the future?"

Labour had tried to persuade people that they were the ones to be trusted because they had changed. But Mr Major said: "It simply won't do for Mr Blair to say, 'Look, I'm not a socialist any more. Now can I be Prime Minister, please?' Sorry, Tony. The job's taken."

But Mr Major's ebullient self-confidence - lapped up by the conference with the traditional ovation and repeated choruses of Land of Hope and Glory - was backed up by a package of well-trailed policy measures designed to trump Mr Blair's five core policy pledges.

John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, said last night: "Just like every other speech in Bournemouth, John Major has nothing new to say. It was just the same old story, fake unity and crude attacks on Tony Blair. No one will be impressed."

Nevertheless, Mr Major and the Tory media machine were keen to promote a continuing commitment to an annual, real-terms increase in spending on hospitals, and a reaffirmation of old plans to recreate cottage hospitals through an expansion of local doctors' surgeries.

On law and order, Mr Major offered an attack on truancy, and announced experimental plans to put electronic tags on "young tearaways", imposing curfews on offenders aged from 10 to 15 years. "If we know a young trouble- maker is out there, night after night, disturbing the peace and committing crimes, we'll make sure the courts have the power to order him to stay put. At home, and off the streets," he said.

As for education, Mr Major repeated that the Tories would offer more choice, with more grant-maintained schools, specialist schools and selection. If parents wanted them, grammar schools in every town, too.

Announcing something close to his own heart, Mr Major also said that "legendary England cricketer" Sir Colin Cowdrey had agreed to help set up a team of sporting ambassadors - "widely drawn from the best role models in sports, our leading athletes, past and present" - who would visit schools, inspiring a love of sport.

Turning to work and welfare, Mr Major said that people must accept responsibility for themselves. "Dependency must be about needs, not a culture," he told the conference. "I can't stand the welfare cheats. I'll tell you why. They deprive those in real need.

"We're determined that taxpayers' money goes where it's needed. Our task is to build a welfare system for the 21st century. A system for a self- help society - not a system for a help-yourself society."

Last night, as he left the Bournemouth conference to the applause of lingering representatives, Mr Major said that the week's successful conference had confounded the doom-mongers. "This is a conference of a party that's going to win," he said. "And every-body here knows it."