Lib Dem Conference: Kennedy looks to involve Labour in pro-Europe drive

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR will join Michael Heseltine, Kenneth Clarke and Charles Kennedy to launch a cross-party "Britain in Europe" campaign, the Liberal Democrat leader said yesterday.

The Prime Minister agreed to appear at the launch next month, provided the event was pro-European, rather than pro-euro, Mr Kennedy told a fringe meeting in Harrogate.

Speaking at the first "Britain in Europe" event of the conferences, the Liberal Democrat leader blamed the Government for failing to fight the European elections on a pro-European platform.

He avoided personal criticism of Mr Blair, with whom he is to have talks after the conference season about further co-operation between the two parties. But he said that the Prime Minister's refusal to take a firmer stand at the European elections had hit support for the Liberal Democrats in the poll.

"I am sick to death of the sceptics trying to claim a monopoly of patriotism in the politics of this country," Mr Kennedy declared.

He was heckled when he said: "We did our best as a party [in the European elections]." Many supporters at the fringe meeting protested that the Government had let down the Liberal Democrats. Mr Kennedy conceded: "We did try and make a pro- European case, but when you have a Government with such an invincible majority, unless they make the case, it is very difficult to be heard.

"What was deeply disappointing about that European campaign is that the Government didn't make any case at all and the case for Europe went by default. No wonder the sceptics have been able to command so much of the dialogue, aided and abetted by their supporters, not least some journalists."

The loudest applause came when Mr Kennedy said: "I am not going to trim. I am not going to equivocate or compromise on European issues - period."

He will be joining the pro-European platform with the Prime Minister, the former Tory chancellor and the former Tory deputy prime minister against Tony Benn, Teresa Gorman, Lord Tebbit and "various hobgoblins" in the Eurosceptic camp.

"We will also have David Owen [the former SDP leader, who is against Britain's entry to the euro] endeavouring to help us," he joked. And he announced: "The innate good sense of Britain will show through."

Baroness Williams of Crosby, a founder member of the SDP Gang of Four, attacked the Eurosceptic "tabloid press" in Britain, said she was ashamed by newspapers carrying photographs of German footballers with helmets on their heads, as if they were members of the SS, and the use of words such as "frogs" and "dago".

The Eurosceptic financier for the Tory party, Paul Sykes, was also due to hold the first of a series of fringe meetings for the conference season last night at the Liberal Democrat conference, as part of the "Campaign for an Independent Britain" - a policy that goes far beyond William Hague's rejection of early entry to the euro.