Tory left fights back in Major's 'beef war'

Pro-European Conservatives are to set up a new political organisation to counter what they call "xenophobic hysteria". The new group, which will be called Conservative Mainstream, will be fronted by the former Cabinet minister, David Hunt, who left-wing Tories believe will act as a foil to right-wingers such as John Redwood.

The move, which has been under discussion for some weeks, was given additional impetus by Mr Major's declaration of non-cooperation with the EU last week because of the ban on British beef exports. One source said: "The reaction of newspapers like the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Sun really shook people. It revealed a xenophobic hysteria which many opinion-formers fear."

Conservative Mainstream will be an umbrella organisation for pro-European and left-wing groupings both inside and outside Parliament. At Westminster these include the 50-strong Macleod Group of MPs, and two dining clubs, Nick's Diner and the Progress Group. Also involved will be the Tory Reform Group, which has more than 2,000 members, mainly away from Westminster, and the Action Centre for Europe, a business-backed group made up largely of Tories, whose president is Lord Howe, the former Foreign Secretary.

The pro-Europeans have long envied the organisational ability of the Euro-sceptics who have succeeded in setting the agenda even though they are divided into several camps.

Like the Euro-sceptic "Great College Street" group, Mainstream will have offices at Westminster, in this case in Abbey House in Abbey Orchard Street.

Funding is expected from the Sainsbury family and from the Rowntree and other trusts. Sources said that, with business taking fright over the direction of Conservative policy, funding is "not a problem". Organisers plan a conference, to be held before the party's annual conference in Bournemouth this October. This will help to draw up proposals which will be submitted to the party hierarchy for the election manifesto.

The new "grand alliance" of the Tory left will work through issues other than Europe, including social policy, flexible labour markets and the balance between public and private provision. It will also act as a base from which left-wing "one nation" Tories can operate.

Its organisers say it could play a crucial role after the election in influencing a leadership campaign if the Conservatives lose and Mr Major steps down. They also hope it will demonstrate to people inside and outside the party that the Conservative left still has a big role to play.

The move came to light amid growing signs of unease within Conservative ranks over the drift of government policy on Europe. Around 25 MPs, including the former prime minister Sir Edward Heath, are said to be deeply critical of Mr Major's beef initiative.

One described it as "an appalling situation", another said that business leaders are "seriously worried" about the anti-European trend.

In an interview in yesterday's Financial Times, Douglas Hurd, the former Foreign Secretary, said British foreign policy had now lost all influence over Germany, the country's most powerful European partner.

Mr Hurd said the German reaction to Britain now is: "We don't know what you are saying. You are very important. You will stay very important. But there's no dealing with you. There's no point in considering British ideas."

In an interview last night on Channel 4's A Week in Politics, Sir Leon Brittan, vice president of the European Commission and a former Conservative Home Secretary, warned Mr Major against fighting an election on a flag- waving platform. He said: "I do not believe that playing an anti-European card is going to be an election-winning gambit and I think it is a dangerous one to do."

The political fallout from the "beef war" remains unclear. 61 per cent of voters back the policy of non-cooperation with Europe, but more than half of the electorate blame the government for the beef crisis, according to an ICM telephone poll of 532 people in today's Observer.

Inside Story, pages 16-17

Alan Watkins, page 19

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable