14/05/2003

Duncan Smith launches election strategy

In a political week dominated by a Cabinet resignation, government splits over the euro and public service reform, the Iain Duncan Smith has moved to capitalise on Labour divisions by launching the Tories general election strategy.

Mr Duncan Smith launched the Conservative vision of "a fair deal for everyone" – the party's fourth launch since he took charge in 2001 – during a speech delivered yesterday to party members at London University. The central plank of the speech was a focus on policies that would regain ground lost in "Middle Britain".

The Conservative leader said that his party envisioned creating a country where "no one is held back, and no one is left behind, and a nation in which prosperity and public services work in harness, side by side".

In the first of a series of planned speeches, Mr Duncan Smith outlined how a Tory government would create prosperity while improving essential services such as health and education.

Mr Duncan Smith said: "Just as Britain needs a strong economy to pay for the public services on which we all depend, so we need strong public services and a high-quality of life if we are to be a country where people want to live and do business, and where they can feel confident about the future. So prosperity and public services must be placed side by side in harness."

Instead of a society which "trapped" people in dependency, the Opposition Leader pledged world-class education standards, medical care and a secure retirement.

"We must help those currently left behind by our education system to achieve their potential by bringing inner city schools up to the standards of the best and by developing world-class vocational education," he said.

Mr Duncan Smith also unveiled plans to recruit an extra 40,000 police officers, to combat the drugs menace, introduce an asylum quota system, and offer a lower tax regime than Labour's. He also emphasised the need to press ahead with the scrapping of university tuition fees and abandon Labour's target of sending half of Britain youth into tertiary education.

Labour Party Chair and Minister without Portfolio, Ian McCartney, dismissed the Tory re-launch as a ploy to hide their true intentions for "massive" spending cuts in public services.

He said: "Behind the rhetoric it is nothing more than the same old deal of dogmatic spending cuts, privatisation and help for the privileged few.

"The Tories have refused to match Labour’s investment in schools or hospitals. Their commitment to 20% spending cuts across the board would mean deep cuts in vital public services.

"The Tory agenda is now clear: to run-down our public services, and then make significant cuts. The only deal the public will get from voting Tory is a raw deal."

The leader of the Lib Dems, Charles Kennedy, said the concept of a 'fair deal' from the Tory party was "absurd".

"Tory plans to force more people to use private medical insurance discriminate against the elderly for whom such insurance is staggeringly expensive and they have no policies at all to increase the numbers of doctors and nurses in our hospitals," he said.

“This was a speech devoid of detail and devoid of credibility – real back of the envelope politics.”

(GMcG)

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