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Conservatives Present United Face as They Prepare for Election

October 10, 1996

BOURNEMOUTH, England (AP) _ Unity, unity _ and more unity. That’s what John Major’s badly divided Conservative Party needs to win an election due in six months, party leaders told their annual conference Thursday.

And it seems the pleas have worked.

``We will leave here united and ready to win a fifth term,″ declared party activist Dennis Potter, his eyes shining in anticipation of a battle against the newly revamped Labor Party, currently way ahead in opinion polls.

``We’ve got a message _ now we’ve got direction,″ said another activist, 17-year-old Nicholas Yarker from Charminister in southwest England.

He wore a conference badge with the slogan ``New Labor New Danger″ and a set of flashing red ``demon eyes″ _ the Tory depiction of Labor leader Tony Blair.

For once, the party’s top brass was spouting the same message _ follow-the-leader _ and playing down bitter differences on Europe that erupted afresh on the eve of the conference when former party deputy chairman Lord McAlpine defected to the anti-European Referendum Party.

Even Defense Secretary Michael Portillo, who has stoked controversy at past conferences with fierce attacks on Europe, warned Thursday that continuing skirmishing could cost the Conservatives an election victory.

``I tell this conference: In order to win, we need three extra policies. Unity, unity and unity,″ he said, to loud applause from 3,500 delegates.

Conspicuously, Portillo made only a few, bland references to Europe, saving his fire for the Labor Party and Blair, its dynamic, reformist leader.

If Labor wins power at the next election, which must be held by May, it will raise taxes, cut jobs, reduce the armed forces and undermine British sovereignty within Europe, Portillo said.

By contrast, the Conservatives offer ``a Britain sure about its place in Europe _ a proud and independent nation state,″ Portillo said.

Appealing to Tory patriots, he praised the British armed forces for their contribution to the NATO-led international peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Iraq.

Troops will remain in British-ruled Northern Ireland, he said, despite an IRA double bombing Monday at the province’s main army base that injured 31 people.

``Our forces are there with the firm support of the British government and people to make sure that in Ulster, as in every part of the United Kingdom, people have the right to choose who governs them,″ Portillo said.

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