Blair 'is best for One-Nation Tories'

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Lord Gilmour, a Cabinet minister under Edward Heath and Baroness Thatcher, has become the most senior Conservative to endorse Tony Blair's "new" Labour Party, as the best hope for "One-Nation Tory" values.

In an interview in today's New Statesman and Society, he says that the One-Nation tendency "seems to be largely dormant" in the present Conservative Party. "But I hope it's going to be resurrected in New Labour. Because we do need a One-Nation Tory party, and if the Conservative Party isn't going to be it, let's have the Labour Party as the One-Nation Tory party."

He says he is "very impressed" by Mr Blair, the Labour leader, and can find nothing in the new Clause IV with which he disagrees. "Although it's a pity he didn't translate it into English, a One-Nation Tory could go along with that."

As a peer, Lord Gilmour does not have a vote and he does not go so far as to advocate a vote for Labour. "I would have thought virtually anybody could vote for Tony Blair. But I'm a creature of habit. If I had a vote, I would probably go on voting Tory."

Nevertheless, he says that if he were starting out now, "I wouldn't go into politics as a Tory. I wouldn't get selected. I wouldn't have a chance".

The then Sir Ian Gilmour was the leading "wet" sacked by Margaret Thatcher from her Cabinet in 1981.

He subsequently voted against the abolition of the Greater London Council and also against the poll tax. He attacked Thatcherism and Lady Thatcher's "unforgivable" treatment of the poor in a book, Dancing with Dogma, written when he left the Commons for the Lords in 1992.

He tells the New Statesman that John Major had a choice; to persist with Thatcherism or revert to traditional Toryism. "He made the wrong choice, of course."

Lord Gilmour supports, among other things, a minimum wage, Scottish devolution, electoral reform and the Social Chapter. "I know of nothing in the Social Chapter to which any reasonable One-Nation Tory could take exception."

He attacks the Jobseekers' Bill, which creates a single benefit to replace unemployment benefit and income support, as "a rotten little Bill", and praises the Conservative backbencher and former minister Alan Howarth who rebelled over it.

"His attitude would have been nothing out of the ordinary several years ago.

"Those were proper Conservative sentiments," Lord Gilmour says. And he hits out at "Euro-haters" in the Conservative Party and Cabinet.

"They are quite happy for great swaths of British industry to be sold off to foreign companies, so long as they can get up and talk about the trappings of parliamentary sovereignty," he says.

He blames the newspaper tycoons Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black (whose Telegraph group now owns the Spectator, which Lord Gilmour owned and edited in the 1950s).

"Our foreign-owned press takes great delight in whipping up hatred of the foreigners nearest to us," concludes Lord Gilmour.