It's much nicer over here

Tory defector Emma Nicholson encourages Peter Temple-Morris, under attack from the right
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The Independent Online
My dear Peter,

You have my sympathies. Having the entire weight of the Conservative Party heavy squad breathing down your neck is a most tedious experience - I can vouch for that.

First of all, you had to put up with that extraordinary editorial in the Telegraph, on your birthday, of all days. You were, claimed the editorial, "so far removed from the party consensus on Northern Ireland" that you were no longer fit to sit in the Conservative and Unionist interest. Your constituency would apparently be wise to be rid of you.

Then at the weekend, the Telegraph made you sound like a convert to the Labour Party with a front-page piece about comments you are said to have made to a Dublin newspaper. Someone is clearly gunning for you.

I know that experience well. I, too, was lambasted many times by the Telegraph, most cruelly, in particular, over my voice, which is a feature of my hearing loss.

Expect now, when you enter the tea rooms and bars of the House of Commons, for conversations between MPs you once knew as colleagues and even tried to help to stop abruptly. The eyes that glare back in your direction will be cold and accusing. Be ready for the telephone calls to your local constituency party urging them to "take you in hand", and for the nasty stories questioning your sanity and motive. You will hear yourself described as disloyal and self-seeking. Your views will be termed "off the wall", "barmy", and "eccentric". And, perhaps worst of all, you will have your personal and family life scrutinised by journalists desperate to link your name to some mindless sensationalism on false stories created and assiduously circulated by the Whip's Office.

Why? Because you have dared to speak up for what you believe in. You have lifted your head above the mob rule which is the present Conservative Parliamentary Party at play and shown that for you, matters of principle and intellectual cogency are more important than the desperate need to be "one of us".

I can only guess that your views on Ireland, Europe and the economy will be extremely unpopular with some quarters of the Conservative Party. On Ireland, in particular, your courageous stance in trying to understand nationalist opinion causes consternation among right-wing colleagues, who would rather stick with their own die-hard opinions. Likewise, your championing of a constructive engagement with Europe and your life-long commitment to One-Nation Toryism sends the right into a lather. Add the fact that you were - like me - a supporter of Michael Heseltine in the 1990 leadership contest. These things are never forgotten.

It is shameful that suddenly views you have held for many years are being used against you to diminish your standing in the party that you have served so well. It is symptomatic of the general malaise of the entire Conservative movement. The Government's desperate attempt to cling on to power has bred a bunker mentality, with anyone who deviates from the party line being rooted out with a McCarthyite zeal.

Debate has been stifled and the views of the Macleod wing of the party, which you now lead, have been ignored and lambasted. As a result, the party has retreated into a right- wing shell. On Europe xenophobia has triumphed over progress.

The Government's recent IGC White Paper showed that it has dispensed with our need to be at the heart of the European Union, influencing its direction and getting the best out of it for each British citizen. We will instead limp along behind France, Germany and the rest of our European neighbours until the General Election.

You are a man of the high principles which used to characterise so many earlier MPs of a bygone Conservative age. That mantle has now passed on to Liberal Democrats and to the New Labour thinkers. The integrity, the high ideals, the political cleanliness are now on the benches opposite to where you sit. You have chosen to stay where you are and I respect your decision. But remember that the critical mass of liberal thought, which once also flourished in the Tory party, is now almost exclusively found in the Liberal Democrats and our nearest political neighbours.

Yours, Emma.

The writer is Liberal Democrat MP for Devon West and Torridge.

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