Monday Club predicts a quick return to Tory fold

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Indy Politics

The far-right Monday Club expressed confidence yesterday that it would be welcomed back by the Conservatives, despite Iain Duncan Smith's decision to suspend the party's links with the group.

Martin Pritchard, a member of the club's executive council, said the club had merely been suspended temporarily, pending "fruitful discussions" with David Davis, the party chairman.

Mr Pritchard said most of the organisation's 3,000 members were also in the Conservative Party. "We are still having meaningful, cordial relations with Central Office and we totally support the Conservative Party," he said.

"We believe in the views of the party and we want to embrace the Conservative Party and work with it."

Mr Pritchard denied that the Monday Club, which has supported the voluntary repatriation of immigrants, was racist. "We have always embraced all sectors of the community. In fact, we have members from Zimbabwe, that is black members, Muslims, Jewish members," he said.

A ballot of members agreed by an overwhelming majority that the club should oppose any form of propagation of racial hatred, he added.

His remarks were dismissed by Tory leaders, who have portrayed Mr Duncan Smith's action against the club as an example of his determination to be "intolerant of intolerance". Last night, a Tory spokesman played down the prospect of early agreement with the organisation. He said: "The Monday Club has been suspended. We have no immediate plans to reinstate it."

The disagreements come as a fierce debate is taking place at the highest levels of the Conservative Party over its stance on racial issues. Some senior figures, including Mr Davis, David Maclean, the Chief Whip, and Eric Forth, the shadow Commons Leader, say the party must not be pressured into launching a "witch hunt" and should support free speech. According to Tory sources, some shadow cabinet members urged Mr Duncan Smith not to sack Ann Winterton, the agriculture spokes-woman, last weekend for telling a racist joke at a rugby club dinner. But the Tory leader ignored their advice and decided to "bite the bullet".

Other senior Tories are urging Mr Duncan Smith to continue his campaign. John Bercow, the shadow Chief Treasury Secretary, and a former member of the Monday Club, has called for membership of the club and the party to be "mutually exclusive".

He told the Freedom Today magazine last September: "If they [the members] insist on staying in the club, despite its unacceptable position on immigration and race relations over many years, they could be kicked out of the party. Such a purge would be morally right and politically cathartic."

Although he has denounced the club, Mr Bercow's previous links might be highlighted by a 600-strong group of right-wing Tories who are threatening to challenge the Monday Club's suspension in the courts.

Yesterday, Martin Salter, the Labour MP for Reading West, challenged Mr Duncan Smith to withdraw the whip from the Tory MP Andrew Hunter until he resigns as a patron of the far-right Right Now! magazine.