'Quick fix' of new leader not enough to revive party

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Indy Politics

Leaders of the Conservative left-wing launched a devastating critique of the party's general election strategy today, warning that the party has been "too right wing" to prevent millions of former Tory voters turning to Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The Tory Reform Group, which claims Winston Churchill, Rab Butler, Harold Macmillan and Ted Heath as exemplars of its "progressive Conservatism", attacks the party's policies as "extremist" and warns that further moves to the right would only further alienate the six million "missing Conservatives" who backed the party in 1992 but switched their votes last week.

It warns: "To win again, we need to develop policies to attract the Missing Conservatives back to our party. A strategy of 'focusing on the core' will not do this; it is a dangerous approach, because it risks cementing the loyalty of the Missing Conservatives to the other parties."

The group, whose president is Kenneth Clarke, represents left-leaning opinion within the party, and looks to Disraeli's vision of "One-nation Conservatism", although an official stressed that its election analysis did not represent the views of any individual MP. Other prominent Conservatives associated with the group include Michael Heseltine and Chris Patten.

An early analysis of internal party polls and doorstep canvassing returns carried out by the group concluded that the issues of Europe, tax and asylum-seekers at the centre of William Hague's campaign merely reinforced the perception that the party was out of touch on the important issue of public services.

Winning Back the Missing Conservatives, a paper due to be published today, argues that the party should not be lured into regarding a change of leadership as a "quick fix" for the party's problems, and urges members to carry through a fundamental reappraisal of policy and values. It urges the party to "modernise and accept social change".

The document, which was drafted over the weekend, represents the first attempt to use scientific analysis of the Tory defeat to promote "one-nation" Conservatism ahead of any move towards a more right-wing agenda.

It says: "Doorstep feedback from the Missing Conservatives tells us that we failed to win them back to the Conservative fold because we were perceived as too right-wing.

"It may be tempting to blame the defeat on Mr Hague's public image, and to accept his resignation as a 'quick-fix solution'. However, it is important to realise that it was primarily the policies advocated by Mr Hague and his team that created the perception that we were 'out of touch'.

"The Conservative agenda ­ Europe, tax and asylum ­ was irrelevant to the Missing Conservatives ­ it did not reflect the issues about which they were concerned, it instead emphasised our extremist position."

The paper also warns that the Tories' "obsession" with Europe prevented it from talking about public services, which it says was the central concern of most voters. "At a time when the electorate was crying out for improvements in public services, and Labour had failed to deliver, they barely featured in the Conservative national campaign," it said.

"Our pledge on tax cuts was therefore treated with scepticism by the Missing Conservatives: they did not believe that we could cut taxes whilst simultaneously improving the core public services of hospitals, schools and police."

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