Pro-Europe MPs must face Hague loyalty test

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TORY MPS and parliamentary candidates will face a "loyalty test" over the single European currency and could be deselected if they refuse to sign up to William Hague's policy.

The leadership is to encourage constituency parties to quiz MPs and potential candidates on whether they will toe the line during the general election campaign. "There will be no purge ... but we expect members will not tolerate people who refuse to support party policy," a senior Tory said.

They have already deselected two MEPs who refused to accept Mr Hague's policy of ruling out membership of the single currency in this parliament and the next. His allies said the 85 per cent he won in the ballot of members gave him "even more authority" to demand candidates publicly back his line. Sources said MPs who could face problems include John Gummer, a former minister, and Ian Taylor, who resigned from the front bench last autumn over the single currency. Officials say there have also been "stirrings" in Kenneth Clarke's Rushcliffe constituency party over his campaign against Mr Hague, although he is not thought to be under serious threat because he is popular locally.

With the Tories reduced to 162 MPs, many constituencies will select new candidates for the next election.

Pro-EU Tories condemned the move. Michael Welsh, the chief executive of the Action Centre for Europe think-tank, said: "It would be very unwise to turn the Conservative Party into a faction with a single article of faith."

Mr Hague's attempt at a fightback suffered another blow today, with a Gallup poll in The Daily Telegraph showing the Tories have slumped to 23 per cent, their lowest rating since last December and four points down on last month. Labour is on 57 per cent (up three points) and the Liberal Democrats on 15 per cent (up two points).

Infighting over Europe dominated the first day of the conference. But Mr Hague was backed by Baroness Thatcher, who said his policy to "save the pound" had given the Tories an "excellent chance" of winning the next election.

Reports, pages 10 and 11

Anne McElvoy, Review, page 3