Chris Patten, the former Tory chairman, has delivered a stinging attack on his party, accusing it of shifting to the right and "flirting" with the UK Independence Party.
Mr Patten, who stands down this month as European commissioner for external relations, ridiculed aspects of the Tories' Eurosceptic policy as "virtual reality", and asked: "Is it entirely coincidental that that doesn't seem to have led to spectacular electoral success?"
In an interview with The Independent, he dismissed plans outlined by Michael Howard last week for a negotiated withdrawal from EU social legislation and the common fisheries policy, saying: "If you decide to repatriate fish policy are you going to depend on our fish being taught to swim only in our territorial waters? Is this the real world?"
His intervention is a setback for Mr Howard, who avoided public criticism from Mr Patten's fellow Tory moderates during a united party conference in Bournemouth last week. Mr Patten said the Tories should attack UKIP head on rather than try to compete with it. Likening UKIP to "all those who believe in little green men", he said: "UKIP represents a particularly unattractive, blazered, xenophobia. They live in a fantasy world of conspiracies against gallant Blighty, white cliffs, Dambusters, Panzer helmets, a world in which every foreigner is a threat, a world which is totally at variance with the one in which we have to earn our living and keep the peace."
Mr Patten countered remarks by David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, who claimed last week that Britain's "treasured" values were threatened by "uncontrolled immigration". He said: "I have no doubt at all that we should try to have a modern effective fair system of controlling immigration. But do I feel at all that Britain's national identity or heritage are threatened by immigration? Of course I don't."
He also criticised Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and urged the Government to make the case for the EU constitution.
Mr Patten's doubts about Mr Howard's European strategy were echoed by the former cabinet minister Michael Portillo. "It is hard to see how committing to withdraw from a few of our European obligations can compete with UKIP's clear-cut policy of leaving the EU," he said in a Sunday Times article.
An ICM poll for The Sunday Telegraph put Labour (39 per cent) nine points ahead of the Tories (30 per cent) with the Liberal Democrats on 23 per cent and found that Mr Blair is trusted by 40 per cent of voters to Mr Howard's 29 per cent. According to a Populus survey for the News of the World, Mr Blair is regarded as trustworthy by 29 per cent of people, compared to Charles Kennedy (25 per cent) and Mr Howard (24 per cent).Reuse content