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New Year message to Conservative group leaders from Sir Norman Fowler, shadow secretary of state for the environmen...
New Year message to Conservative group leaders from Sir Norman Fowler, shadow secretary of state for the environment, transport and the regions, thanking them for their efforts over the last year and promising the party's support in the run-up to the crucial local elections in May 1998 and May 1999:

'The local government elections will be the key political battleground over the next eighteen months. This May, there will be around 4,000 council seats up for election including the London boroughs. In May 1999, there will be another 12,000 seats to contest. It must be our priority to fight these elections with all our energy and to put a compelling case to the public.

'Conservative candidates have already made good progress in winning back council seats. Since the general election we have made 41 net gains in council by-elections taking seats from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. We must work to ensure the recovery continues.

'Labour's honeymoon is now over - and for good reason. On issues like welfare reform the Labour Party in government have entirely reversed their previous position. They now proclaim that the social security system must change and that benefits should be targeted to those people who need them. In some cases they may even be planning to attack the needy. Yet we all remember how in opposition they denied that there was a problem and bitterly fought any change. Such hypocrisy has become the hallmark of this Government.

'As for the Liberal Democrats, they have shown themselves over the last months to be the ineffective and subservient partner of the Labour government. They are hoping desperately that Labour will throw them regional government and proportional representation. The Liberals will not risk offending their Labour masters.

'Yet it is just at this time that effective opposition is required. The public are beginning to recognise the dangers of one party government. They have seen evidence of the excesses of Labour councils who have been in power for year after year. They fear that Labour ministers will rubber stamp any plans put forward by Labour councils. They know that council tax bills are set to rise sharply and will be pushed up further by Labour's infamous pensions tax.

'We will fight the coming elections on fundamental issues like low taxation, good quality services and honest open government. Above all, we will fight for the interests of local communities. We believe in real community politics - where local councillors serve their local communities and answer to them. We believe in local government being as close to the people as possible and not having decisions transferred to some remote regional administration. This will become a vital issue over the next years.

'Thank you for all your efforts over the last year. Your work in local government is of crucial importance and the Party will give you every support.'

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