Hague comes under fire from party grandees

Heath and Clarke both choose Conference to launch scathing attacks on leader - but Baroness Thatcher gives him the thumbs-up.
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Conservative leader William Hague has come under fire from two distinguished members of his party's old guard over his policies on taxation and Europe.

Conservative leader William Hague has come under fire from two distinguished members of his party's old guard over his policies on taxation and Europe.

He was told he must adopt a more "grown up" stance towards the European Union if he becomes Prime Minister by former Tory chancellor Kenneth Clarke while Sir Edward Heath, a former Prime Minister, accused him of coming up with policies from "out of the blue".

However he did win the backing of Baroness Thatcher who, speaking from the party conference in Bournemouth, said he was doing "very well" as leader.

Mr Clarke, who is strongly in favour of the single currency, said Mr Hague must tone down his rhetoric on Europe and questioned the arguments of Euro sceptics who did not accept a Tory government would have to play its part in Europe.

Mr Clarke called on the Conservative leadership at the party conference in Bournemouth to "tone down" their rhetoric on Europe.

He also said that, despite claims to the contrary, his party's position on the euro was "perfectly adaptable" as it only ruled out single currency membership for the lifetime of the next parliament.

Mr Clarke, speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, said: "The rhetoric has got to be toned down a bit on Europe because we are preparing to govern now.

"More talk of the threat of a superstate, the idea that we are likely to be run from Brussels, the idea that our taxes will go up automatically if we join the euro is not language that we should use because it is nonsense.

"In fact, when William gets to No 10 he'll find that he has to live in the grown up world of a rapidly changing economic and political situation in Europe where that rhetoric simply won't fit."

Mr Clarke, due to address a conference fringe meeting, dismissed suggestions he would consider joining with other, more pro-European parties, and said he was committed to seeing the Conservative Party back in government.

And he said delegates who came to conference wearing Viking helmets in celebration of the Danish no vote on the euro had got the wrong idea.

He said: "I do want to see a Conservative government. When we get a Conservative government, then they won't be wearing Viking helmets and celebrating the Danish referendum. They will be facing up to the realistic problem of how does Britain remain a great power in the modern world? If you look at the real world that means getting involved in the process of European integration."

Meanwhile Sir Edward Heath accused the Conservative leader of producing policies "out of the blue" to cut fuel tax and raise pensions and questioned whether they were economically realistic.

He added the party was wrong to emphasise tax cuts at the expense of increased spending on the National Health Service and cast doubt on Mr Hague's claims that Tories were now a "One Nation" party.

"What people are saying is that he suddenly produces these policies out of the blue - this was certainly true of petrol - and of course then people aren't impressed," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"They say you are just making it up on the spur of the moment ... That is a very dangerous technique to follow."

Sir Edward said Mr Hague still had to show that he would, as he claimed, govern in the interests of all of the British people. "It is not enough to say we're the One Nation party. You have got to show you're the One Nation party by the action that you take," he said. "The test is still to come as to whether their proposals comply with the demand to satisfy the needs of all parts of the nation and to do it fairly."

He said Tories still had to convince the public that their sums did add up and that they could raise spending on public services while cutting taxes.

Arriving at the Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth, Baroness Thatcher condemned the Government's pensions policy as "an outright fraud". She said it was wrong for pensioners to be means-tested for a benefit towards which they had contributed all their working lives.