William Hague yesterday saw his authority undermined after trying to hold his party together with a compromise policy on Europe to oppose Britain's entry into a European single currency "within the foreseeable future".
The Tory leader moved from the formula he used to win the leadership election - ruling out Britain's entry for 10 years - which had been used to secure the votes of Euro-sceptics from the Clarke-Redwood ticket.
But the splits in the party over Europe appeared as deep as ever, as Mr Hague declined to spell out on BBC radio precisely what the term "for the foreseeable future" meant.
"I'm not going into hypotheses about future Parliaments. It means certainly if there was a referendum on the single currency in the next few years, we would be campaigning for a `no' vote. We think it would be a huge economic and political risk for this country," he said.
The new formula was agreed by the Shadow Cabinet at a pre-conference meeting last week. Some of the key pro-European members were absent.
The aim was to reunite the Tories behind a campaign for a "no" vote if the Government announces it favours entry, and calls a referendum on entry to the single currency in the first wave in 1999.
But it failed to satisfy the largely Euro-sceptic audience in the conference hall, which cheered speakers' calls for a Tory commitment to say "never" to entry to the single currency. Some shadow Cabinet Euro-sceptics also overstepped the agreed line.
Kenneth Clarke further undermined Mr Hague's authority by reaffirming that he still had ambitions for the leader's job. In a phrase which will send shivers down Mr Hague's spine, the former Chancellor said in an interview: "I have no intention of standing against the present [leader]. At the present time."Reuse content