Tories hang on to seats in Bournemouth

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM HAGUE'S plans to launch a Tory fightback in his speech to the party conference today have been undermined by a scathing new attack on him by the party's pro-Europeans.

As Lord Howe, the former Foreign Secretary, fired a new broadside at Mr Hague, two Tory Euro MPs last night announced they had resigned from the party. John Stevens (Thames Valley ) and Brendan Donnelly (Sussex South and Crawley) had already been deselected as candidates in next June's Euro Elections for refusing to toe Mr Hague's line on the single currency.

Writing in today's Independent, Lord Howe, the former foreign secretary, warns Mr Hague he will not become Prime Minister unless he stops "pandering" to the Tory Eurosceptics. He claims Mr Hague is "imprisoned" by right- wingers, who could inflict "sudden death" on him if he budges from his anti-single currency stance. Lord Howe accuses Mr Hague of opportunism and says the only reason he became party leader "so far ahead of his time" was his scepticism towards economic and monetary union (Emu).

He warns that Mr Hague is leading the Tories into a political cul-de- sac defined by the far right, adding: "The party is locking itself into a one-way bet on Emu failing". Lord Howe claims that British business regards Mr Hague's policy as "madness", and he describes the Government's wait-and-see line as "common sense".

Dismissing the Tory leader's claim that the ballot of party members had drawn a line under the single currency debate, he declares the policy will be "outflanked and overrun by events".

Lord Howe's intervention will enrage the Tory leadership and dashes their hopes that the party's warring factions could reach a truce.

Despite a heated debate on Europe at the Bournemouth party conference yesterday, Kenneth Clarke, the pro-Emu former Chancellor, Michael Portillo, the Euro-sceptic former Cabinet minister, and Michael Howard, the foreign affairs spokesman, all tried to lower the temperature by adopting a conciliatory tone.

In his speech today, Mr Hague will concede that 18 months after their election rout, "the hostility on the doorsteps has gone but we are still to create enthusiasm".