Right of Reply: John Stevens

The Pro-Euro Conservatives leader replies to Kenneth Clarke's comments in an interview

I WAS somewhat surprised that Ken Clarke explained the silence of Conservative pro-Europeans about Mr Hague's extreme Eurosceptic platform in the European elections as putting party loyalty before principle. My impression was that they simply thought Hague was going to do badly, a misjudgement shared by Labour. Those of us in the campaign knew better, but our warnings were ignored. At least Mr Blair had the excuse that he was distracted by foreign affairs, rather than just by foreign travel.

Ken Clarke is, of course, right that this failure to speak out contributed greatly to Mr Hague's victory - which was thus entirely avoidable! The creation of the Pro Euro Conservative list was based on the expectation that senior Conservatives who shared our view would attack Hague, should opposition to EMU become his central campaign theme. We had very good reasons for this expectation.

Above all, if Hague succeeded, getting Britain into the euro on a time- scale that would avoid damage to vital British interests must become much more difficult. Sadly, this is now the case.

But I was surprised in particular because Ken Clarke is a conviction politician. Such lethargy and complacency, when the stakes were so high, is obviously just a lapse. As must be his excuse, superficially so plausible, that pro-European Tories should not be doing the Government's work for them. For a conviction politician, the failure of others to promote the national interest increases, not diminishes, the obligation to act oneself. No doubt also a lapse, is his determination to advocate a Tory victory at the next general election, where a good showing by Hague will remove any prospect of a winnable referendum in the next parliament.

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