Letter: Not my Tory party

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Today I will be "crossing over" the floor of the Chamber of the House of Lords from the Conservative benches to the Labour benches. It is not an easy thing to do. I have many friends in the Conservative Party, starting from my days in the Cambridge Union of 40 years ago. I realise I will be causing upset.

Much has changed in the Conservative Party - as it has in the Labour Party - during my adult life. Recent changes in my party have not been to the good. At the end of its period of office, just over a year ago, we had a Conservative government which was standing on its head its own established penal policy. Claims by the then Home Secretary that "prison works" and the introduction of measures which imposed mandatory sentencing on the judiciary were populist and unworthy.

Since leaving office the leaders of my party have been progressively turning away from our established policies towards the European Union. As formerly it was my party who was committed to a strong but compassionate penal policy so it was also my party who was committed to make the EU work as an economic union. It was my party who negotiated our entry into the EEC. It was my party who negotiated and signed the Single European Act in which we expressly agreed the convergence policies for bringing into being the single currency. It was my party who negotiated and signed the Maastricht treaty in which we expressly agreed the establishment of economic and monetary union, including the single currency, albeit reserving in a protocol the right not to enter into its third stage without the consent of our parliament.

Laying aside some unfortunate comments by front-bench members of my party in the Commons, we should look to our leader's Fontainebleau speech of 19 May to know where my party now stands. It is, as Mr Hague told his audience, that we have just about reached the "limit to European integration". If we were to join the single currency we "could find [ourselves] trapped in the economic equivalent of a burning building with no exits" and "the British Conservative Party is against membership of the single currency now, and, subject to a ballot of party members, intends to oppose it at the next general election".

I have no doubt Mr Hague spoke with sincere conviction. I applaud and support the points he made on enlargement of the European Union and the need for greater accountability of its institutions, but the heart of this speech and the heart of the party, which he leads, is expressly separating itself from the further integration of the European Union and from the other member states in it. Far from seeking to be in the "heart of Europe" which, as expressed by our last prime minister, was my party's policy, we are now seeking to be apart from it.

The choice, for those in the Conservative Party who share my concerns, is to work inside the party to restore these commitments or to join another party which is committed to a strong but compassionate penal policy and which is committed (notwithstanding some strong contrary views from within its ranks) to make the EU work from inside.

The choice is party or policy. Difficult though it is, I believe the only honest choice is one of policy.

I have known for many years the present Home Secretary (as I have known for more years the former Home Secretary) and I am wholly confident that he is evolving strong and compassionate penal policies which were once the pride of my party. I am also wholly confident that the Prime Minister and his government are committed to making the EU work and to ensuring the accountability of its institutions so that the best interests of the people of the United Kingdom and of the European Union, as a whole, are served. From Monday I offer the Government my support in the House of Lords in both those commitments.