Letter: Country needs change - and so do Tories

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Sir: Some months ago I ventured, as a former parliamentary colleague of the Prime Minister, to tell him that in my view a clear majority of the electorate had decided that for a variety of reasons it was "time for a change"; in the 1997 general election I could not and would not actively support the Conservative Party, as I have consistently done for over half a century.

It is now timely to stress that we British preach - and claim to practise - a fully pluralistic form of parliamentary democracy; and hence should recognise that pluralism does not merely mean that one party recognises the existence of others. It also entails an acceptance of the historic concept that, from time to time, one or other can reasonably expect to take over the reins of office, as has happened during the last century.

This consideration has become blurred since 1945, because the only other party, at least under our present electoral system, capable of forming a government, was an avowedly Marxist-Socialist one, socially divisive and dedicated to creating a class-warfare society with aims incompatible with, and erosive of, our nation's historic respect for individual freedoms.

Now this has all changed. Whatever Mr Blair may be charged with, he is not a Marxist and does not lead a Marxist party.

The present performance of our national economy may well now be on the right road. Yet it is pertinent to recall that, as Kenneth Clarke has very recently admitted, what we have had to endure in the interim has not been due just to a world recession, but arises from wrong policies the Tories pursued in the late Eighties, culminating in Black Wednesday in 1992, involving us in the largest ever single debasement of our currency.

"New Labour" may well be divided on national constitutional issues, and about our future relationship with Europe. But there is a general national consensus that centralising trends have to be reversed in favour of more devolution: arguments are only how best to achieve this.

As regards Europe, it is within the Conservative Party the deepest fissures exist. Mr Major continues to stress that Britain has to be "at the heart of Europe". So far he seems to interpret that role as a readiness to inflict a series of cardiac arrests within the EU, using a veto whenever he feels so inclined, to maintain a facade of unity within the party.

No one in their senses wants a change of government just for the sake of change. Yet certainly the Tory party as now constituted and directed needs, in its own best interests as well as those of the nation, to have the opportunity to undertake severe heart-searching in order to regain a new identity and unity of purpose, before it can hope to take office again.

Sir FREDERIC BENNETT

Aberangell, Gwynedd

The writer was a Conservative MP, 1951-1987

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