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Tories prepare for public service fight.

Byline: Tariq Tahir Political Correspondent

IAIN Duncan Smith yesterday began the task of carving out policies for a battle against Labour over the state of the nation's public services.

The new Tory leader said only his party was free from vested interests and able to bring a fresh approach to reform of Britain's "Third World" public services.

He set out a vision for a Britain in which public service "was a way of life" and not shorthand for the public sector.

In his first keynote speech at a Tory conference, seen by many as solid but uninspiring, he told delegates Britain was the fourth richest country in the world.

Whether through nerves or a more laidback speaking style, the new Tory leader failed to ignite his conference in the same way Tony Blair did last week in Brighton.

"We should be providing public services that match those of our European neighbours, not those of the Third World, " said Mr Duncan Smith.

Tory spin doctors were yesterday drawing a parallel between the Conservatives now and the 1970s.

Then it was possible for the party to tackle inflation, union reform and the problem of state industries because it was not wrapped up in ideology like Labour.

Now, they claim, the Tories can come up with solutions for the pressing issue of today - the public services - because it is still free from such constraints.

Mr Duncan Smith told delegates: "To improve health and education in this country, your first thought must be for patients and parents. But that's not the Labour way. Their first thought is to preserve the existing system and their first instinct is to protect vested interests."

But Mr Duncan Smith may have stored up trouble for himself in the near future when he said the party as a whole would oppose the Euro, rather than leaving the door open for those in favour of the single currency to campaign for entry.

In nod to the sizable number of Tories who voted for Michael Portillo's less harsh brand of Conservatism, he said women, ethnic minorities and people of different lifestyles must have a greater role in the party.

"And that is also why I will be intolerant of anyone who is intolerant of others, " he said.

On the war on terrorism, the new Conservative leader took the hardest line of any party leader, rounding on those who have called on the United States not to be given a blank cheque.

"I have to ask what jaundiced view of America animates such people. The response of President Bush and the American people to a grievous assault has been dignified, restrained and measured."

Mr Duncan Smith also raised the spectre of nuclear or chemical weapons falling into the hands of terrorists or rogue states.

"That's why I have called for strengthening of our home defences. That's why I have urged support for plans to build a defence shield that would protect us too."

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JUST LIKE THAT: Iain Duncan Smith speaks at the Conservative conference
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 11, 2001
Words:504
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