Heath condemned as a socialist by Tory Euro-sceptics

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Sir Edward Heath, the former Conservative prime minister, was yesterday urged to join New Labour by furious Tory Euro-sceptic MPs after endorsing Tony Blair's programme for the social chapter, the minimum wage, and a Scottish parliament.

The remarks by Sir Edward, 80, who is standing for the Tories in Old Bexley and Sidcup at the general election, threatened to undermine a central theme of the election attack by Brian Mawhinney, the Tory party chairman, that Labour would import the policies that had increased unemployment in Germany and France. John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, said Sir Edward had "demolished his own party's negative election campaign".

Sir Edward rejected John Major's claims that the social chapter could cost 500,000 jobs and said the purpose of the minimum wage was to avoid sweated labour, "quite rightly so". On the Scottish parliament, he said: "There is no danger to the Union of the United Kingdom, none whatsoever." The former Tory leader also criticised the Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind's controversial tour of EU member states.

"I wish that the Foreign Secretary hadn't gone on a tour of European countries, trying, as he said openly, to appeal to their people above the heads of their governments and politicians.

"What would we say if somebody came to this country and said we will ignore your politicians, your government and your Parliament and just listen to what I have got to say? It would not go down very well."

His remarks provoked a backlash from Tory Euro- sceptics. John Carlisle, MP for Luton North, said of Sir Edward: "He is probably the best example of New Labour that there is and the best reason why people should ignore what he has got to say.

"As an unashamed socialist, he is causing enormous damage to himself personally, and partly to his party. The sooner he goes, the better."

Another leading Euro- sceptic, Bill Cash, said: "Sir Edward Heath is completely at odds with the Conservative Party on its most important policies, which totally contradicts his assertion that it is we, the Euro-realists, who are in the wrong."

Teresa Gorman, MP for Billericay, who lost the whip over her Euro-sceptic rebellions, said the Chief Whip should discipline the former prime minister. "I was carpeted for introducing a Referendum Bill, so he should be carpeted, too, for what he has said," she said.

"It is people like Sir Edward, with his bitter and twisted spite, who could cost the Tories the election, not me.

"When is Sir Edward going to join the Labour Party and have done with it?

"He has never really been a Conservative at all. His views have always been socialist, in so far as he has political views. Now that he is reaching his dotage, it is all coming out.

"How can he stand as a Conservative at this election when he is putting forward straight Labour policies?"

A senior Tory party source said: "One wonders what government policy he does support these days."

And the former Treasury minister David Heathcoat-Amory said: "I detect a note of desperation ... because he has lost the argument about so many of his beliefs. He is beginning to lash out against the majority of the party."