Gardiner: Tories will go `down the pan' in election

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The Independent Online
The Conservatives are going "down the pan" at the next election, Sir George Gardiner, the party's latest backbench defector, said yesterday.

Already sacked as Conservative candidate for his Reigate constituency at the next election, Sir George announced on Saturday he was switching to the Referendum Party to become their first, and probably last, MP.

Sir George said yesterday: "I find it very hard to find a Conservative Member of Parliament that actually thinks we are going to win the next election. I mean John Major might, but he's about the only one.

"Tory seats are going to go down the pan with an almighty flush when the election comes. And the writing was on the wall, wasn't it, at the Wirral? The Tory backbenchers are by no means illiterate."

As for the views of his former Conservative colleagues, Sir George told BBC television's On The Record: "All I can say is that my phone has certainly been buzzing this morning with calls from my colleagues, MPs, saying, `Well done, George, the best of luck' ... five or six, something like that."

Sir George said he had been "driven out" of the Tory party by Mr Major's fence-sitting on the issue of the European single currency.

His language was more graphic in a Sunday newspaper article, in which he said: "John Major just will not listen. Instead the cheeks of his bottom hold the top of the fence tightly in their grip."

The latest defection puts the Conservatives into a minority of three votes in the Commons.

However, with an election due to be held on 1 May at the latest, there is no chance of Mr Major being forced into a precipitate request for a dissolution, as neither Sir George nor the Ulster Unionists plan to bring the Prime Minister down.

Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, said yesterday that there were "very, very, very few people" who backed the Referendum Party's demand for a vote on the future of the United Kingdom in the European Union.

But he warned that the Referendum Party posed a very real threat. Mr Heseltine told BBC radio's The World This Weekend that " the danger [is] that if you vote for a Referendum candidate, you're more likely to get a socialist government doing exactly the opposite to what you want."

That warning was underlined by John Redwood, who told Sky television's Sunday programme that while there was no question of the Referendum Party winning seats, with only 2 per cent support in the polls, there could be a risk of a split Tory vote.