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?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions