No sooner has one Angela lapsed into obscurity than yet another, this time Dame Angela Rumbold, no less, the Tory party's vice chairman in charge of candidates, comes out with a resounding attack on the whole notion of a common currency. "Poor John" was sheepishly obliged to let her off lightly. He found a form of words to claim she did not quite mean what she all too clearly said.
What would happen were John Redwood, Michael Portillo, Michael Howard and Peter Lilley to write in the same vein? Will their election addresses contain a patriotic defence of sterling as an essential pillar in the British way of life? Leaving aside the debate on Europe which has been permitted to go by default, John Major cannot sack members of his Cabinet half way through an election campaign. He will quite simply have to grin and bear it. He would be made to look a fool, and the party's divisions made even more apparent.
Yesterday's papers were full of exultant headlines. The Daily Telegraph: "Major defied as ministers break ranks"; The Times: "Tories rush into ranks of Euro-sceptics"; and The Guardian: "PM ducks sacking rebel ministers". Even Michael Forsyth, a cabinet minister, has lined up with the Euro-sceptics. But he is likely to lose his seat.
If it has not been "sleaze", it has been disunity. Sexual misbehaviour is of no importance, save to the families of the MP concerned. If Piers Merchant was a fool, then the editor of The Sun was a knave in offering a 17-year-old "night-club hostess" pounds 50,000 in order to ensnare him. What is more important is the activity of public relations companies like Ian Greer Associates in recruiting various officers of the Tory backbench trade and industry committee to do their dirty work for them.
What has happened to the old Tory party? Did it vanish with the coming of Margaret Thatcher?
In the 1960s, Profumo and Lambton made love for fun, not money. Today, David Mellor takes the media by storm. It used to be remarked when I was first elected in 1959, that Tory scandals were sexual; Labour ones, financial. Eighteen years of office have seen a series of Tory MPs embrace them both with cheerful alacrity. Why?
There are several reasons. In the first instance, the old ballast of the party is long dead and buried. MPs who entered Parliament as an extension of their sense of social obligation, or who had distinguished wartime records, were honourable men. They would not have touched the Greers of this world with a barge pole. If they wished to influence government policy, they went to see their whips, or the minister himself.
Secondly, the long years of government have seen a sea-change in the kind of Tory who gets himself elected. The upper and the educated classes have withdrawn, by and large, from constituency activity, leaving the choice of candidate to the second-rate. It is hardly surprising that the "new Conservatives" looked into the mirror and plumped for their own reflection.
Thirdly, it is now the case that almost every Tory MP wants to become a minister, which was certainly not so in the 1940s and 1950s. Today, when unpromoted, they get bored. Although the parliamentary salary and allowances have increased steadily over the years, most MPs attempt to double their income, some by writing (as I have done), others by taking advantage of the blandishments of lobbyists.
The same might be true of the Labour Party, but no lobbyist would hire a Labour MP to influence a Tory minister, and the media seems to have turned a blind eye to the peccadillos of members of the People's Party. If Labour is returned to office, the situation will quickly change.
The saddest thing about the Tory campaign is not the gimmickry - chickens stuffed with out-of-work actors - but the way in which the case for European integration has been permitted to go by default.
We threaten Europe with non-cooperation yet still expect them to meet our point of view over fish and beef. Not since the Prime Minister said in 1992 that "Britain should stand at the heart of Europe" has there been a concerted effort to make the case for a common currency. Only Ken Clarke can claim credit for a robust defence of a development which it must be in Britain's interest to join. Could a Britain isolated from Europe stand alone as a trading nation in a world dominated by the euro, the yen, and the dollar, to say nothing of China and the countries of the Pacific rim? The question has only to be posed for the answer to become obvious.
What do we get instead? A defeatism reminiscent of Vichy. In which spa will a Portillo-led Tory opposition make its headquarters? Will it be Leamington, Bath or Cheltenham? We are treated to those two old buzz-words "identity" and "sovereignty". Even were there to be a United States of Europe, France would remain French, the Netherlands Dutch, Italy Italian. England and Wales were joined in 1536. Has any Eurosceptic ever been to Cardiff Arms Park to see England play Wales?
And as for sovereignty, it is a commodity like any other. By joining Nato we relinquished our power to decide between peace and war. By transferring a proportion of our gold reserves to a central bank in Frankfurt, we will share sovereignty, not lose it. What a shame it is that Malcolm Rifkind has replaced Douglas Hurd, that Michael Heseltine remains silent on this issue, and that the Tory party has not had the leadership over Europe that it deserves.
Sir Julian Critchley was, until the Dissolution, Tory MP for Aldershot.Reuse content