Divided Tories lurch towards civil war

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The Independent Online
Further resignations from William Hague's frontbench team were threatened yesterday, if the party decides to vote against the Amsterdam Treaty next week. Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, reports on the Tories' running civil war.

Michael Heseltine, the former deputy prime minister, said yesterday that nothing would persuade him to leave the Conservative Party. He and his colleagues would now make a stand and fight every inch of ground against the Euro-sceptic "rump" that had survived the election landslide.

"You're always going to lose if you let the Euro-sceptics bacon-slice you," he told BBC Breakfast with Frost, in a reference to what had happened under the last Conservative government. "That process is now at an end."

Drawing a parallel with Labour's civil war over unilateral nuclear disarmament, Europe, and public ownership in the 1980s, Mr Heseltine said: "Nothing would persuade me to leave the Conservative Party."

Some Labour moderates, such as Denis Healey and Roy Hattersley, had stood and fought the hard left, while others, such as Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and David Owen, had left Labour to form the Social Democratic Party. In the end, Mr Heseltine said, Labour had been won back "to the voice of reason of the centre-left". And he added: "It's very possible that David Owen would have led the Labour Party if he'd stayed and fought."

With some right-wingers calling for Tory dissidents to be "dumped" for backing a European single currency, the battle shows every sign of deepening bitterness.

David Curry, the agriculture spokesman who resigned from the Shadow Cabinet on Saturday, told BBC Radio 5 Live he could not have won the fight against the "hard line" taken against the single currency in the Shadow Cabinet. "I think that was a declaration of war," he said. "It was bound to be divisive."

Mr Curry indicated he would have been happier with the line taken in the Tories' recent party political broadcast and the "for the foreseeable future" line taken at party conference. But he complained: "They had to drive towards some biblical statement on this which was bound to be divisive and I cannot say I subscribe to it because I don't."

He added: "It is much easier for me to get out and state my principles, then everybody knows where they are."

But Ian Taylor, who also resigned from the front bench last week, warned the Shadow Cabinet that if it stepped up its Euro-sceptic line, others could follow. Giving an example of the kind of provocation that might trigger further resignations, Mr Taylor told BBC radio's World this Weekend. "I hope we do not take a bull-headed view of the Amsterdam Treaty. These are the sort of issues that could trigger further problems within the Conservative Party."

The second reading of the Bill to enact the treaty is scheduled for next week, but the Shadow Cabinet has to decide on Wednesday whether to demand that all its MPs vote against it, as signalled by Michael Howard, the shadow Foreign Secretary, last week.

Peter Lilley, the shadow Chancellor, summed up Conservative policy towards the single currency on GMTV's Sunday programme as, "Let them suck it, and we'll see."

The backbencher Alan Clark rounded on the likes of Mr Heseltine and the former chancellor Kenneth Clarke. He said: "They should shut up ... If they won't shut up then they should leave the party."

But the former Home Office minister Ann Widdecombe, now a Tory backbencher, attacked the leadership, saying it had been provocative to depart from the previous policy which held the party together - ruling out participation "for the foreseeable future".

Edward Macmillan-Scott, leader of the Conservative MEPs, told BBC television's On the Record that he and his colleagues were not bound by Mr Hague's policy.