'One Nation' plan blocked

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Political Correspondent

An attempt by left-of-centre Tories to recapture the "One Nation" political initiative has been stymied after interference by Conservative Central Office.

Tories in the left-wing Macleod Group were planning simultaneously to publish six essays on major political topics, probably in a single binder or a single booklet, in the hope of halting the party's drift to the right. One of the essays, by Quentin Davies, MP for Stamford and Spalding, sets out a strongly argued case for a single European currency and a common defence policy, which are anathema to the Tory right.

Central Office stepped in even before Baroness Thatcher's contemptuous attack last week on One Nation Tories as "no nation" Tories. Twenty-four hours earlier, Michael Mates, the former Northern Ireland minister who is now one of a team of MPs attached to party chairman Brian Mawhinney, had attended a Macleod Group meeting to warn them off the project.

During what one MP called an "agitated" meeting, Mr Mates expressed the view that what would amount to an alternative manifesto could not be contemplated during the current ideological war within the party, and should certainly not deal with Europe.

A meeting of the group this week is now expected to decide to publish the essays individually over a period of time, thus robbing them of some impact.

The humiliating climb-down has incensed some group members, who complain that the party centre-left is again playing by the rules while the right seized the ideological initiative.