Tory chief pledges revival in fortunes
Europe Editor DAVID WALLEN in Bournemouth
CONSERVATIVE Party chairman Jeremy Hanley last night promised another election victory to the party faithful and attacked Labour leader Tony Blair as representing the 'nightmare of socialism'.
As the party conference opened, he promised a revival in Tory fortunes and said Prime Minister John Major was the 'right man in the right place at the right time to deliver a fifth victory'.
He dismissed the new-look Labour under Mr Blair, saying his party had been wrong on every issue before and was still wrong.
Mr Major looked confident and in charge as he arrived at the Bournemouth conference hall. At last year's conference - and for some time afterwards - there were questions about his leadership but nobody in the party now is talking about a serious leadership challenge this autumn.
Nonetheless, Lady Thatcher arrived to take her place on the conference platform in what some would see as her traditional attempt to steal the show.
She refused to answer questions about claims that her son made GBP12 million (HK$147 million) out of a British-Saudi Arabian arms deal.
The welcome for her in the hall was warm but significantly shorter than it has been in the past. The party leadership hopes that interest in the 'sleaze factor' which has dominated the opening of the conference will fade as fast as the ovation for the former prime minister.
Mr Hanley has come to the conference with a series of gaffes to his name and a reputation for being accident prone. This was not helped when the conference chairman called for applause for his arrival - only to turn and find he was not there. Mr Hanley was said to be finishing off his speech.
He began by praising the party's achievements and then answered the charge that the Tories were not getting due credit for them.
'False perceptions have been masking the achievements of this country and of this Government,' he said.
'But this week reality is going to break through. We are going to be telling the British people not only how far and how fast we have travelled together in recent years but also where we now intend to go in the second half of this Parliament.
'We will see our party growing stronger, we will see our achievements growing stronger and we will see Britain growing stronger.' He said Labour remained a 'nightmare of socialism'.
'How could a party which has been wrong on just about everything in the past 15 years possibly be the right party for Britain in the next 15 years? The whole of Labour's present approach can be summed up in the phrase 'trust us because now we know we were wrong'.' But with Labour now sharing the centre ground of British politics with the Conservatives, many Tories are urging the Prime Minister to put 'clear blue water' between the two and move his party further to the right.
Mr Major is believed to be adamantly opposed to this approach.
He is determined that the Tory Party remains a centre party, contesting the ground of centre politics with Mr Blair.