Politics: Blair says Tories will recover - eventually

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair yesterday warned Labour MPs to keep their eye on the Tories, but that they would remain unelectable for so long as they were split on Europe. Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, reports on the continuing Euro-wars.

The Prime Minister and William Hague clashed over Europe, the Social Chapter and the Amsterdam Treaty during Commons questions yesterday, after Mr Blair had told the Parliamentary Labour Party that in time the Tories would get their act together - "But we must make it very difficult for them to recover."

He said that for so long as Michael Howard and Lord Parkinson and others remained in such senior positions, it would be very hard for Mr Hague to portray the Tories as a party offering a fresh start. "And they will continue to be divided, which in itself can make them unelectable," Mr Blair said.

With those divisions remaining on open display over the new leader's line against the single currency, the Shadow Cabinet last night agreed to oppose next Tuesday's Commons second reading of the Amsterdam Treaty legislation - which could also incite pro-European Tories to defy their party whip.

In an evident attempt to unite his party yesterday, Mr Hague used Commons questions to round on the Government for signing up to the Social Chapter at Amsterdam.

The Conservative leader repeatedly attacked Mr Blair for signing away British rights to block extensions of the Social Chapter to small firms. He told Mr Blair: "The assurances you offered businesses about European regulation before the election are like the assurances you gave students and people with pension funds - absolutely worthless."

After the issue had been repeatedly raised by a series ofTory backbenchers, the Prime Minister told Nicholas Winterton MP: "There are no measures in the Social Chapter that are going to cause problems for British business. It's just absolute nonsense.

"We were told before the election that, if Britain signed the Social Chapter, 500,000 jobs were going to flood out of the country. It's all been nonsense.

"What is important is that we are part of the debate in Europe and that this country - because this is in the interests of business - stands up for British interests best when it represents a positive, constructive, forward-looking government."

He then added, to Labour cheers: "If the Conservative Party don't learn that soon, they will spend a long time in opposition learning it."

But there was one good piece of news for the Tories yesterday. Following the resignations of two pro-Europeans from his frontbench team last week, another pro-European member of the shadow cabinet, Sir Alastair Goodlad, the spokesman for international development, said he was fully behind Mr Hague's policy on the single currency.

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