Redwood leads right in EU currency battle

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Indy Politics
COLIN BROWN

Chief Political Correspondent

Conservative right-wingers led by John Redwood will put pressure on the Government today to reject any prospect of a single European currency in the Tory General Election manifesto.

Conservative 2000, the right-wing think tank linked to the Tory leadership challenger, will warn of the dangers of a single currency in a "white paper" on the forthcoming European intergovernmental conference. It will also call for reform of the European Parliament and more decision-making at national parliament level.

The Tory right wing will also seek to tighten its grip on the Tory manifesto after the election on Monday of a new chairman of the Thatcherite 92 Group of Tory MPs, to replace Sir George Gardiner, who is standing down from the post.

Sir George's friends are keen to rebuild the influence of the group over the framing of the general election manifesto, and saw his continued chairmanship as a possible obstacle to closer relations with the leadership.

Sir George has been criticised for organising the right-wing slate for backbench committee elections, and was given short shrift by John Major before the leadership election last year after reports that the leadership of the 92 Group were to lay down the law to the Prime Minister.

The 110-strong group of Tory MPs is being balloted this week, and John Townend, the hard-line chairman of the Tory backbench finance committee, and a sharp critic of government economic policy in the past, is expected to win the election.

The other contender for the chairmanship, Neil Hamilton, has told friends he wants to see the 92 Group focus more on influencing government policy in the run-up to the general election than on winning seats on obscure backbench party committees at Westminster.

Mr Hamilton, a former minister who resigned to clear his name over allegations of a free stay at the Ritz, has shrugged off claims by Mr Townend's supporters that Mr Hamilton is seen as the "establishment candidate". He has been quoting Baroness Thatcher's words: "It's a funny old world."

Mr Hamilton, well-known for his wit, has also joked to friends: "I would never support the establishment candidate... that is why I am voting for Mr Townend."

The right wing privately were dismayed that Mr Major had "fumbled" a response at Prime Minister's questions yesterday to Hartley Booth, Baroness Thatcher's former adviser, over the warning by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl that integration would be a matter of war and peace in the 21st Century.

The right wingers said later he should have been prepared to attack Mr Kohl, but had "Kenneth Clarke [The Chancellor] sitting on his shoulder".

The Conservative 2000 paper,which calls for reform of the European Parliament, will also underline the growing conviction among Tory MPs that the Government is turning decisively against a single currency on the grounds it cannot be achieved by the deadline of 1999 even by a core group, led by Germany and France, without changing the convergence criteria.

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