Blair's Britain: Euro-sceptic wing clipped

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The Independent Online
More than half of leading Euro-sceptic Tory MPs in the last parliament lost their seats in the general election, suggesting that the British public does not share their aversion to further European integration.

Of the 120 sitting Tories identified by Tory newspapers as Euro-sceptic, 62 were unseated - 55 by Labour, six by the Liberal Democrats and one by the Scottish National Party. Many of the surviving 58 held on with greatly reduced majorities.

The most prominent Tory casualties from the right of the party were the former Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Portillo, who would almost certainly have been a heavyweight right-wing contender for the leadership, and Michael Forsyth, the former Secretary of State for Scotland.

Dame Angela Rumbold, the Conservative party vice-chairman, who published a campaign leaflet denouncing the single currency, was also ousted by Labour.

The losers may, to a large extent have been victims of the general anti- Tory tide that swept the country on Thursday. But the fact that their anti-European credentials failed to save them indicates that electors were either not interested in the issue, or are more committed than the politicians to Europe.

Dozens of soulmates of the departed MPs survived to fight the Brussels dragon another day. Among the rump of Eurosceptics in the new parliament will be several former Cabinet ministers: Peter Lilley, already a candidate for the Tory leadership, and Michael Howard and William Hague, both likely contenders.

Other Tories from that wing of the party who held on to their seats were Angela Browning, Eric Forth, John MacGregor, Michael Ancram - and John Redwood.