Standing Tory policy on its head

TORY diehards who don't approve of David Cameron's wind of change, turning traditional party policies upside down, should console themselves with the dramatic upturn in Conservative fortunes in the opinion polls.

By Graham Dines

TORY diehards who don't approve of David Cameron's wind of change, turning traditional party policies upside down, should console themselves with the dramatic upturn in Conservative fortunes in the opinion polls.

An ICM poll for the News of the World puts the Tories on 39%, four points ahead of Labour on 35% -the first time they have been in such a clear lead for 13 years.

It confirms the trend since Mr Cameron became leader just seven weeks ago - that his decision to take the Conservatives onto more socially liberal ground and being unafraid to slaughter some of the Tories' holy cows has found favour with the electorate.


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Conservative strategists have calculated it is worth alienating the dwindling, aging band of Thatcherite loyalists in the shires - who would never dream of voting Labour - in return for the support of tens of thousands of upwardly mobile under 50s who live in the urban and suburban areas the party needs to win to gain power.

The pitch is being made to Liberal Democrat and New Labour voters who would in past years been natural Tories but deserted from John Major's failing party in 1997 and who never returned to the fold when it was led by William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard.

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Labour seems uncertain how to handle Cameron - Blairites believe the Cameron support for public services reform should be taken at face value while Gordon Brown allies want to attack the Tory u-turns and expose Mr Cameron's lack of detailed policy before the Tory becomes unstoppable.

With the Liberal Democrats engaged in a little noticed leadership contest, the Conservatives seem to have re-asserted themselves as the only real opposition to Labour, hoping to marginalise the Lib Dems and returning Britain - or more accurately England - to two party politics.

Having ditched the Conservatives' support for the reintroduction of grammar schools, Mr Cameron turned his attention on Monday to police reforms. Opposing Home Secretary Charles Clarke's plan to scrap county constabularies, he voiced support for local policing and accountability on the model of New York and Los Angeles.

His radical proposal includes directly elected police authorities or police commissioner on the lines of “support your local sheriff.”

Heaven forbid, he even suggested elected mayors, so beloved of John Prescott, could take on the duties. Cameron supporting Prescott - that really is standing Tory policy on its head.

DUFF SAVES THE EUROPEAN CONSTITUTION!

THE European Constitution is alive and kicking. Thanks to East of England Liberal Democrat Euro MP Andrew Duff, MEPs yesterday voted to kick-start talks on the document, scuppered last summer by Dutch and French referendum rejections.

No decision is expected before the end of 2007 on the constitution which was designed to streamline the expanded EU and avoid decision-making gridlock between 25 - and soon more - member states.

Mr Duff said: “European and national parliamentarians should now join forces to intensify the period of reflection on the future of Europe and stimulate real Europe-wide debate on key questions.

“The EU badly needs its constitution if it is to be able to rise to the challenge of globalisation, to play its part in world affairs and to meet more effectively Europe's social needs. The European Parliament has followed our lead in seeking to rescue the Constitution from the dustbin.”

OATEN ADMITS INSIGNIFICANT SUPPORT

AS 73,000 Liberal Democrat members prepare to vote on a successor to Charles Kennedy, Mark Oaten yesterday admitted what had been obvious from the outset of the contest - he had no support of any significance and therefore had decided to withdraw from the race.

The home affairs spokesman's decision leaves a field of three in the election to replace replace Mr Kennedy, who resigned as party leader at the beginning of the month after admitting a drink problem.

THE WOULD-BE LIBERAL DEMOCRAT LEADERS

Here's the Dines guide to the runners and riders:

Sir Menzies Campbell:

Aged 64. MP for Fife North East since 1983. 2005 majority 12,571 (over Conservative). Foreign affairs spokesman. Educated Glasgow University and Stanford University, California. Competed 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo and 1966 Commonwealth Games in Jamaica. UK 100 metres record holder 1967-74. Called to the Bar (Scotland) 1968; appointed Queen's Counsel (Scotland) 1982.

Married to Elspeth 1970. Interests: all sports, theatre, music.

Simon Hughes:

Aged 54. MP for Southwark & Bermondsey 1983 by-election to 1997 and for Southwark North and Bermondsey since 1997. 2005 majority 5,406 (over Labour). Spokesman on Attorney-General's office. Educated Selwyn College, Cambridge. President Liberal Democrat Party since 2004. Barrister, called to the Bar, Inner Temple 1974.

Single. Interests: soccer (Millwall and Hereford Utd) Glamorgan county cricket club, Wales rugby football union, music, history, theatre.

Chris Huhne:

Aged 51. Euro MP for England South East 1999-2005. MP for Eastleigh since May 2005. Majority 568 (over Conservative). Treasury spokesman. Educated Magdalen College, Oxford. Career in economic journalism, member National Union of Journalists.

Married to Vicky 1984. Interests: family, football, cinema, history.

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