Rising star picked to head Tory election campaign

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William Hague has fired the starting gun for the Tories' general election campaign by appointing Andrew Lansley, a member of his Shadow Cabinet, to a key role at Conservative Central Office.

William Hague has fired the starting gun for the Tories' general election campaign by appointing Andrew Lansley, a member of his Shadow Cabinet, to a key role at Conservative Central Office.

Mr Lansley, a rising star tipped as a future Tory leader, has moved into headquarters, where he will in effect act as deputy to Michael Ancram, the party chairman.

With Mr Hague, the pair will head what the Tories have dubbed their "near campaign," running from now until the Budget next March, when they will step up another gear for the run-in to the election expected in May.

In a memo to aides this week, Mr Hague told them he wants to "sharpen up" the political direction of the party machine and the election "war room" at Conservative Central Office.

Mr Lansley, who shadows Mo Mowlam, the Cabinet Office Minister, performed a similar role during last year's European Parliament elections.

He will now handle policy while Mr Ancram takes charge of organisational preparations for the election. They will share the job of running the month-long election campaign from Tory HQ, allowing both of them to spend time in their own constituencies.

Mr Lansley will be assisted in his strategic role by Tim Collins, a party vice-chairman, who will take charge of executing it.

Three other members of the Shadow Cabinet will be involved in the election plans: Michael Portillo, the shadow Chancellor; Francis Maude, the shadow Foreign Secretary; and Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary.

Although Labour has recovered its lead in the opinion polls after losing it during the September fuel protests, Tory strategists insist there is still "all to play for" at the election.

They are taking comfort from private polling that suggests about one voter in four is "unattached" to any party and thus "up for grabs".

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