Euro-sceptics flood Central Office with conference motions

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The Independent Online


John Major's plans for a united Tory party conference this October are under threat from an organised deluge of Euro-sceptic motions submitted by local Tory associations, an internal Central Office memo has revealed.

Of 136 resolutions on foreign affairs, all but six deal with Europe, according to the memo, leaked to today's New Statesman and Society. "The great majority of these resolutions [some of which, though from different parts of the country, are identically worded] express disapproval of some aspect of the European Union, such as the single currency, the role of the Court of Justice, the 'federalist super-state'," the document says.

The motions to the party conference will not be published until September, but Central Office officials are clearly alarmed by the activity of the right-wing networks. "It is already clear that a determined effort will be made to ensure that the mood of the conference is broadly hostile towards Europe," the memo says.

The tactic of submitting large numbers of identical motions, or "model resolutions", was a key feature of the factional civil war in the Labour Party in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Tory officials are able to select a neutral motion for debate, but the evidence of grassroots hostility to Europe will embarrass Malcolm Rifkind, who has to address the conference for the first time as Foreign Secretary in reply to the debate.

It will also strengthen the hand of the defeated leadership candidate, and former Secretary of State for Wales, John Redwood, whose speeches to a series of fringe meetings will be the focus of Euro-sceptic attention.

Some of the anti-EU motions are believed to have been organised by the European Foundation, a non-party body backed by Sir James Goldsmith. But the foundation chairman, Bill Cash, Tory MP for Stafford, told the New Statesman: "There is no conspiracy. This is spontaneous stuff."

Sources in other Euro-sceptic groups within the party denied involvement. Although activists in Conservative Way Forward, whose president is Baroness Thatcher, and in Conservative Graduates considered organising model resolutions, they decided it would be counter productive.

The level of factional organisation certainly distorts the true picture of Tory grassroots opinion, which divided 53 to 31 per cent in favour of resisting "further moves to integrate the European Community" in a recent survey by Patrick Seyd and Paul Whiteley of Sheffield University.