The subversives who lie in wait

Tony Blair and his henchfolk need to wake up, and fast, to the fact that the Tories are starting to roll Cassandra: `No one but a fool would fight on so many fronts ... issues could leave Blair isolated'; Tebbit: `An attempt to shackle this country into monetary union would destroy the party'
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The Independent Online
Conservative and Labour assassins came out of the shadows last night, threatening John Major and Tony Blair, and further shaking the unity that both parties are seeking to present to voters.

Lord Tebbit warned from the Right that if the Prime Minister ever tried to bind Britain into European Monetary Union, he would destroy the Conservative Party - with freedom-loving Tories joining others to create a new, potential party of government.

From the Left, an anonymous Labour MP, writing as "Cassandra" in Tribune, the left-wing weekly, warned that Mr Blair had sown the seeds of his own destruction - making so many enemies that he faced a leadership coup if he became prime minister.

The coincidental attacks revealed the depth of feeling in both parties against the direction being taken by the leaders: Mr Major balancing precariously on the single currency fence; Mr Blair forcing the pace of New Labour in the face of a parliamentary party which still clings to traditional Labour values.

With everything still to fight for in the long-running campaign for the next election, inflation up 0.6 percentage points to 2.7 per cent last month, and the latest MORI opinion poll showing the Tories up five points in a fortnight, yesterday's exposure of party tensions injected added zest to the battle.

Lord Tebbit told a meeting of the right-wing Conservative 2000 Foundation last night that a Parliament composed largely of "pygmies" had accepted "a slide towards being little more than a provincial assembly with subordinate powers to legislate over a shrinking portion of our national affairs". He found Mr Major's stance over the 48-hour working time directive humiliating, with his talk of bargaining for EU pledges to be honoured.

The former Conservative Party chairman then added insult to that injury, saying there was little difference between the position taken by Mr Major and Mr Blair on monetary union; that they were both straining every sinew to argue it should not be an election issue.

"It is time Mr Major realised that an attempt by a Conservative government to shackle this country into a monetary union, which could not but lead to a political union, the state called Europe, would not just split the present Conservative Party," Lord Tebbit said. "It would destroy it.

"All those Conservatives who believe freedom, independence and democracy matter above all other political programmes would leave to join with those of other parties or none who shared that view. Such an alliance need not be a single-issue party. It could be a potential party of government."

The Government was also on the receiving end of flak from the President of the EC Commission, Jacques Santer, who in a reference to Mr Major's stance on the 48-hour working week said: "Yes, we need more flexible labour markets, but not a return to the Dickensian sweat shops of the 19th century.'' It emerged yesterday that ministers' fear of the currency controversy had led them to block backbench demands for a full Commons debate about three EU documents on monetary union.

Monetary union also featured as one of the internal Labour crises that faced Mr Blair if he was elected Prime Minister, according to Tribune's "Cassandra".

The author, described as a "senior" MP with front-bench experience, said that the single currency, taxation and public spending, the minimum wage, trade-union rights, and devolution were all on the immediate agenda for a Labour government.

"No one but a fool would choose to fight on so many fronts, yet all these issues will come to a head by the end of next year and could combine to leave the leader isolated and weakened beyond recovery."

There would be no shortage of MPs next summer prepared to accept that the damage caused by a palace coup would be less of a problem than the greater risk of being led by a leader whose policies and personal beliefs were shared by only a small minority.

`Tribune' article, page 2