John Stevens: Why the Pro-Euro Conservatives are joining the Liberal Democrats

'We had hoped that people like Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine and Chris Patten would stand and fight'
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The intention of the One-Nation Tories who formed the Pro Euro Conservative Party nearly three years ago wasto push Ken Clarke and other leading moderates into doing an SDP-style breakaway, in combination with the Liberal Democrats. We knew the Conservative Party had been taken over by right-wing extremists, whose policies both at home and abroad were deeply damaging to Britain's interests. We also believed that the Government was failing to address the major domestic and international issues facing the nation and there was a desperate need for an electable opposition.

Iain Duncan Smith's victory in the leadership battle has now made the domination of the far right in the party so absolute that even Michael Portillo is completely marginalised. It is tempered only by dishonesty. A great show has been made of reining in the Monday Club and the Campaign against a Federal Europe, but that is only because the former leading lights of these organisations now sit on the opposition front bench. At the same time, it is becoming clear that this Government, despite its huge renewed majority, is incapable of providing the clear leadership for the radical initiatives that are necessary in our domestic and foreign policy.

In health, in transport, in education, the Government swings wildly between dogmatically closing down any debate about long-term finance through taxation, rejecting hypothecation or private contributions, and an anarchic stream of consciousness about institutional changes that is demoralising to those who work in the public services and many outside, who might provide much needed additional investment. But all the Conservatives are doing is desperately trying to cover up their attraction to American-style, privatised health provision and American levels of public investment in transport infrastructure and education, by "studying" precisely those continental countries whose supposedly bloated statism they continue to cite as one of the key reasons for their rejection of the euro.

The Home Office is combining the greatest assault on civil liberties in recent memory, with the greatest interference in the operational integrity of the police. But the Conservatives are posturing about fighting terrorism, while opposing European police co-operation, and pretending to respect individual freedom while holding fast to their antiquated instincts on race, gender and lifestyle. The Government has stuck fast at a half-finished process of devolution, guaranteed to exacerbate tensions between the regions of England and Wales and Scotland. But the Conservatives are determined to stoke the fires of a narrow English nationalism, by refusing any devolved authority for the English regions.

Above all, the Government is running away from resolving our place in the world, the precondition of our power to defend and advance our interests in the global economy. This goes beyond the question of the euro, or the debate about the future shape of the EU. It comes down to determining whether we have any higher ambition than that of being an international adjunct, politically, economically, socially and culturally, of the US.

Mr Duncan Smith has already decided this. He owes his leadership to the US far-right. He and a clear majority of the shadow cabinet want Britain not just to never join the euro, but also to withdraw from the EU altogether, to be in Nafta, with American-style inequalities and American-style death sentences. They just lack the honesty to proclaim this publicly.

Dishonesty goes to the very heart of the official opposition, as evasion does of the Government. The dishonesty of David Davis waiting for Iain Duncan Smith to fail. The evasion of a clash between the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. Why has New Labour proved so disappointing? Because it is the triumph of the appetite for power over principle. Because it is composed of people who ditched all their previous beliefs to win office and who thus have no proper compass to guide their policy priorities.

Why are the Conservatives so grotesque? Because it is the triumph of false principles over the appetite for power. Because it is composed of zealots whose sole motivation for being in politics is their hatred of all who do not share their extreme reactionary obsessions, and who thus lack any proper empathy with the vast majority of the British people.

We in the Pro Euro Conservatives still believe that a new political grouping of the moderate Tory grandees and the Liberal Democrats is the only force that can be sure of defeating this Government at the next general election. We had hoped that people like Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine and Chris Patten, from whom we learned the humane, and realistic values of the great Tory tradition, would stand and fight against the cancer of extremism and xenophobia that has infected the body of the Conservative Party. But we have now heard too many broken promises and lame excuses. Their fastidiousness is all the more absurd because it was precisely the disloyalty of the anti-Europeans, their disregard for personal calculations, that won them control of the party.

We have therefore decided to join the Liberal Democrats. We believe it is in the national interest that the Lib Dems replace the Conservatives as the second party in the country at the next general election. We think this is possible, even if the moderate Tory grandees continue to lend their fading credibility to Duncan Smith.

Only a relatively modest shift to the Liberal Democrats from the Conservatives would deliver the just over 50 necessary seats. The Conservatives are far weaker today than Labour was in 1981-83. They are less numerous. Their heartlands are less secure. They have no equivalent of the trade unions to drag them back to moderation and sanity. They cannot sit out, as Labour did the miners' strike, their equivalent watershed, the euro referendum. A large proportion of the Conservative Parliamentary Party would not accept a "Yes" vote in a referendum. Any further deterioration in the Conservative position will break their only remaining asset: the blind expectation that, at some stage, the pendulum must turn their way again.

The Liberal Democrats are rightly trusted on the central question of public services. The Conservatives are not. The Liberal Democrat stance on civil liberties, constitutional reform, on the economy and on Europe are those that Conservative-inclined voters can now wholeheartedly support. They offer, in short, what the British people so desperately need: a principled, moderate alternative to this Government. They deserve to destroy the Conservative Party.

The writer was MEP for the Thames Valley, 1989-99, and is a founder, with Brendan Donnelly, of the Pro Euro Conservative Party