Chief Political Correspondent
Lord McAlpine, the former Conservative Party treasurer, could lose the Tory whip in the House of Lords over his support for Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party, senior party officials confirmed last night.
But Tory leaders played down the prospect of mass expulsions of other supporters of the Referendum Party from Conservative Associations, raising suspicions that there could be too many to handle.
The refusal to take tougher action was seen as an attempt to avoid an embarrassing clash with Tory supporters who have sympathies with the Euro- sceptics.
"Just because Bill Cash [a leading Euro-sceptic Tory MP] enjoys holidays with Jimmy Goldsmith does not make it an entryist organisation," said a senior party source.
Lord McAlpine embarrassed the party by announcing on the eve of the Tory conference his decision to chair next week's conference for the Referendum Party. Tory officials denied he was being expelled on the ground that he had never been a fully paid up member of the party, in spite of being a party treasurer during the Thatcher period.
But action is expected against Lord McAlpine continuing to take the Conservative whip in the Lords. "He still takes the whip in the House of Lords. It may well be when the House of Lords returns, that is reviewed," said the Conservative source.
Brian Mawhinney, the Conservative Party chairman, said on the BBC: "I am an inclusive chairman, not an exclusive chairman. I would set about trying to persuade them what the general election is about is covering the country. Whatever else the Referendum Party is about, it does not masquerade as a government."
Tory officials later made it clear that anyone found canvassing for a Referendum Party candidate against a Conservative candidate could be expelled, but it would be a matter for the local constituency association.