Britain's Conservative Leader Foresees Party Comeback

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07pm EDT

London ( - Britain's opposition leader, William Hague, rallied his Conservative Party over the weekend, assuring activists the party could reverse Labor's huge majority and win the next general election.

Hague highlighted a series of crises and embarrassments plaguing Prime Minister Tony Blair, calling him "the control freak who's lost control."

Addressing a conference intended to launch the party's campaign for local government elections -- scheduled to be held in May -- Hague noted the large number of local level by-elections won by the Conservatives since the 1997 general election.

The party controlled 1,350 seats after local elections last year, when it won overall control of 45 more councils. It had also trounced the Labor Party in European elections and doubled its number of European lawmakers in what he said was "the biggest swing to an opposition party since 1918."

Results of new surveys show that the Conservatives are indeed on the rebound after their disastrous defeat in 1997. But it remains to be seen whether the swing will be sufficient to bring victory in the next general election, which could be held in 2001.

Since 1997, the Conservatives have achieved a net gain of 107 town halls, while Labor has a net loss of 97. Sixty-two of the Conservatives' victories came at the expense of Labor, and most of the other from the third largest party, the Liberal Democrats.

Labor has also been hard hit by Liberal Democrat successes, and has lost seats to small nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales.

But local by-elections have been marked by a low turnout, a factor hitting Labor hardest. General elections traditionally bring much higher voter numbers.

The Daily Telegraph reports Monday that local by-election results since 1997 indicate a five per cent swing to the Conservatives. In order to make up the ground lost in 1997 and to defeat Labor, however, the Conservatives will need a swing of around 12 per cent.

Addressing the party activists, Hague focused on Blair's fumbling in two important areas - the campaign for London's first ever directly-elected mayor, and the devolved government in Wales.

In both cases, Blair has been seen as trying to impose central party control on the processes; in both cases, he has been embarrassed.

Now the London mayoral race - whose winner will be the most powerful person in Britain after the premier - sees Blair backing an uncharismatic compromise Labor candidate in an effort to prevent a more popular Labor man, but one who holds outspoken left-wing views, from beating a Conservative contender.

And in Wales, Blair last week had to accept a man as First Secretary of the devolved assembly whom he had opposed for the position in the past. Blair's preferred holder of Wales' top job resigned as he faced a no-confidence vote.

"For six years the one thing Tony Blair said he could do was control that dangerous left-wing monster called the Labor Party," Hague said. "Six weeks into the new year and it's that dangerous left-wing monster called the Labor Party that's controlling him. He's suffered the ultimate humiliation: the control freak who's lost control."

The Conservative leader likened Blair's party to London's Millennium Dome, which was opened to acclaim on New Year's Eve, but has since suffered stinging criticism and has struggled to attract the numbers it needs to break even.

"Loads of hype. Huge amounts of money. Long queues. Run by Tony's cronies. A great sense of let down. What a perfect metaphor for New Labor."

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