Yeo says Tories must modernise

SENIOR Conservative Tim Yeo, MP for Suffolk South who yesterday quit the shadow cabinet to argue for radical changes in the party to take it back to the centre ground of British politics, yesterday said it was "premature" to talk about a leadership bid.

SENIOR Conservative Tim Yeo - the MP for Suffolk South who has quit the shadow cabinet to argue for radical changes in the party to take it back to the centre ground of British politics - yesterday said it was “premature” to talk about a leadership bid.

Mr Yeo, who quit his post as Shadow Environment and Transport Secretary yesterday, is one of the party's leading modernisers and believes the only way for the Tories to regain power is for it to revert to its pre-Thatcherite 'One Nation' traditions.

Michael Howard's decision to stand down by the end of the year once a new method of electing a leader is in place has once again opened up the debate on the future direction of the party.

Whoever becomes leader is almost certain to face Gordon Brown at the next election.

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The Chancellor is odds-on to replace under pressure Tony Blair when the Prime Minister steps down, possibly before the 2006 Labour Party conference.

Mr Yeo, MP for Suffolk South since 1983, said it would have been wrong to speak out from the frontbenches because Mr Howard ran a properly disciplined shadow cabinet.

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“I no longer feel I can argue the case for extensive change that I think we have to make while accepting that restraint,” he said.

“I shall set out what I think is the agenda for the Conservative Party and its leader to address.

“It is perfectly possible my colleagues will think I am talking complete nonsense, in which case I certainly won't be a candidate.”

Mr Yeo is adamant that the party has to change to attract people who had voted Labour and Liberal Democrat at the General Election because they regarded Tories policies as right wing and narrowly defined.

Large sectors of the public felt untouched by the party, which had to focus on “non traditional” issues such as the environment.

“We have to get back to the centre ground,” Mr Yeo added. “What we need to do is widen out the issues which we talk about, which we are associated with, so they reach beyond our core voters.

“The truth is we have now gone through two elections when we have stuck on around 32-33%.

“I think it has been too much focus on issues which are of concern to our traditional supporters.

“I really do believe there is a whole huge section of younger voters, of A-B voters, where alarmingly our share of support is going down at each election.

“I think those are people who have been somehow discouraged from returning to the Conservative Party because they don't think we are concerned about the work/life balance, that we should talk more about compassion and social justice and individual liberty.

“Those are issues which in a fairly rich society we should be talking about more.

“And I believe if we re-define the agenda for the Conservative Party to address in the next four years, that is the first and essential step towards getting back into Government.”

Shadow Defence Secretary Nicholas Soames has also quit to engage in the debate, while right winger John Redwood - in charge of deregulation policy - yesterday criticised the election campaign.

“We had enormously long debates on immigration, we had practically no debate on climate change, world poverty, the planet and the environment,” said Mr Redwood.

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