Where did all the pro-European Tories go? And is Michael Heseltine's report the way ahead?

The former Minister for Europe and Home and Foreign Secretary recalls the Tory wars over Europe in the 1990s - and endorses Barack Obama ahead of next week's election


Will Euroscepticism bring down the Coalition?

I hope not. The basic arguments in favour of Britain being in Europe remain strong and valid, but if the critics prevailed, then yes, the Coalition would cease to exist. I would have voted for the Government this week in the EU budget debate. We had a similar situation over the Maastricht Treaty and then, too, Labour deserted its principled position. That’s a bad thing. After many ups and downs, Labour is still a party in favour of membership of the EU so it’s specious of it to pursue such tactics.

What happened to pro-European Tories?

There certainly aren’t as many as in my day. They’ve faded out of view and instead we have a chorus of anti-Europeanism. People have lost sight of the original arguments for which they voted heavily in 1975. It’s true that the institutions of the EU have made bad mistakes, but if it came to a referendum on membership, then I think the old arguments would prove valid once more. People are irritated by the EU, but if it came to deciding whether to pull out, I think they’d vote the same as in 1975.

What’s your view of Michael Heseltine’s report into reviving the economy?

It’s a vigorous piece of work, as you would expect from Michael, and I hope Government and Parliament will find it useful and apply the basic points about growth and decentralisation. There is some truth in the criticism that the Coalition advocates localism without really enabling it, but if you give more powers to local communities you’re responding to a basic human instinct, and that’s a healthy thing to do. People prefer to decide things for themselves, and if they can’t, they like the people who do decide to be close to them. The lower down the power passes, the better.

Does the UK require an independent nuclear deterrent?

My instinct is that it does. We’ve got it and therefore it’s sensible to retain it. You then get into questions of detail, and how exactly you would deploy it, and that I don’t know. But you have to remember that the decision we make in 2012 is a decision that will need to run for 20 or 30 years, and one simply doesn’t know over that time scale what the world will be like. The uncertainties get more serious every day.

How do you view the prospect of an independent Scotland?

I’m half-Scots myself, and I think that prospect is a dismal one. It would be difficult for the rest of the UK, but above all it would be difficult for the Scots. The Scots are taking a great deal for granted – for example, that they would waltz into the EU, but there’s no way that would be the case. They’d have to go through all the hoops like any other nation so they are not being realistic. I know Alex Salmond and he is a very intelligent and effective politician, but I think he’s bitten off more than he can chew here. Votes for 16-year-olds is a silly way of proceeding. We need a proper discussion about that first.

What would a Mitt Romney presidency mean for the UK?

I don’t think it would have a huge effect on us. Personally, I’d vote for Barack Obama, though I recognise that having swept everything before him in 2008 with waves of eloquence, the reality of him has been more disappointing. I think he underestimated the difficulties, in two areas specifically. One is the Middle East, where he has flopped, and the other is the more basic one of the existence in the US of strongly antagonistic points of view. It is a divided country in a way it hasn’t been for many years. Democrats and Republicans bash each other. There is a stiffening of attitudes and parties are dissolving into splits. That’s going to be a problem for whoever is the next president.

How does David Cameron deal with the accusation that he and others in the Government are “too posh”?

As an old Etonian myself, this was an issue I had to deal with when I stood for the leadership of the Conservatives. My mistake was allowing the debate around it to drag on. My advice is to make it clear that the question shouldn’t really arise, that there is no place for this kind of class warfare. When David Cameron was standing for the leadership, he dealt with it much more skilfully than I did. You just have to hope that the critics exhaust themselves. It’s not as if it’s news that Cameron and, indeed, Boris Johnson went to Eton.

Should Prince Charles’s correspondence with ministers be open to public scrutiny?

I’ve been the interested recipient of a number of Prince Charles’s letters, and I had no objection to them. I think he’s entitled to express himself. He hasn’t taken a Trappist vow of silence. If you’re a minister and you get a letter from Charles, you obviously need to think rather carefully about how you handle it, but I don’t think the answer is to clamp down on him. So, no, they should not be published.

What qualities does the next Archbishop of Canterbury need?

He needs to be a skilful mixture of saint and diplomat. It’s very difficult at the moment because it’s really a healing job he has to perform – bringing together people who left to themselves would be for ever quarrelling.

Lord Hurd held Cabinet positions in both the Thatcher and Major governments, including Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary

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