Parliament: Patten rules himself out of Mayoral race

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The Independent Online
CHRIS PATTEN, the former Tory party chairman, effectively ruled himself out as a candidate to become the first elected Mayor of London yesterday, but put himself at the head of the pro-European wing of the Conservative Party. Calling for the Tory party to reclaim the centre ground from Tony Blair, the former Hong Kong governor compared the Conservative's Eurosceptic wing to the Bennites of the Labour Party in the early Eighties.

"When I hear Conservatives saying that our real problem is that we are not right-wing enough, I hear worrying echoes of Labour in the early 1980s. It's a reminder that Bennery is not a totally left-wing nostrum.

"I think what the centre left and centre right need to remember is that the middle ground, on to which Labour has successfully trespassed, is inhabited by real ideas and by real aspirations."

Mr Patten, regarded as the intellectual champion of the pro-Europeans in the Conservative Party, said the Tories should win back the centre ground by commitments to fiscal prudence, low taxation, welfare reform, educational improvement not just education spending, and the devolution of real political power.

He said: "That's the ground on which the Conservatives should launch their fightbackand I'm sure that under William Hague they will do so."

He denied he was out to challenge Mr Hague, but made clear he disagreed with the Tory leader's policy of ruling out Britain's entry to the single currency for at least another Parliament. But Mr Patten, a member of the board of The Independent, also made clear he was not interested in running for the election to become the mayor of London because it lacked real powers.

"This is not a bid to come between Ken Livingstone and Lord Archer. Elected mayors should have real power and not become ceremonial whingers," Mr Patten said.

Mr Patten also said he was "pretty doubtful" that the Government would give the postholder sufficient powers to do the job properly.

"I think there's a real danger of a mayor being elected and then not being in a position to make the trains run on time," he said. Of his own role in the party and a possible return to Westminster, Mr Patten said he was making no decisions until his work on the independent commission looking at policing in Northern Ireland was over.

"There's a very bad track record of grandees trying to parachute into safe constituencies," he said

Pointing to the level of commitment required, he added: "I haven't reached any decision about whether I want to go through all that and do it in a wholehearted way. The next Conservative Prime Minister will be William Hague."