In respect of two other arch-Europhiles there is better news., On 29th October Ian Taylor (Esher & Walton) announces his resignation as front bench spokesman on Northern Ireland and three days later David Curry emulates him by resigning as Shadow Agriculture Minister. Not to be outdone, on Remembrance Sunday (9th November), Ted Heath (Old Bexley & Sidcup) will tell the world that he will not be voting with the rest of the Party against the Amsterdam Treaty and that he intends to abstain. This reminds me that, when he was our guest speaker at a highly successful ’92 Group dinner on 4th November, Wm. Hague had made it quite clear that he would be absolutely consistent in what he told different wings of the Party. Called upon to ask the first question I first of all remind William of my experience of having had the Party whip withdrawn in 1994 for failing to respond to a 3-line Whip on the European Communities (Finance) Bill and then go on to invite him to assure the meeting that the Party’s code of discipline had not changed. Notwithstanding Alan Clark (Kensington & Chelsea) thinking that was a “brilliant” question I remain unconvinced that the ‘wreckers’ in the Party will be treated similarly although it has to be said that before the month is out the Whip has been withdrawn from Temple-Morris who has promptly resigned his membership of the Party. Next June he will ‘cross the floor’ and after a decent interval his new-found friends in the Labour Party will elevate him to the House of Lords.
On the day after Ted Heath’s outburst my Whip, Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire North), seeks my opinion on a number of issues such as whether the Conservative Party should abandon Unionism in favour of nationalism; whether England should have its own Parliament; what I think about Proportional Representation (PR) and not least whether I am happy about the imposition of a 3-line Whip for the vote on the Amsterdam Treaty in two days time. With regard to the latter I tell Oliver that the same should happen to Ted Heath as happened to me three years ago when I abstained on the EC Finance Bill. Such a course of action would demonstrate Wm. Hague’s mastery of the Party; would be helpful to the Party Whips in terms of maintaining discipline and might go down extremely well with the millions of our Party’s supporters who now see Ted Heath as a spoiler.
Although Wm. Hague’s policy on the Single Currency is hardly likely to appeal to the relatively few remaining committed Europhiles within the Parliamentary Party these political dinosaurs, who have the effrontery to call themselves the ‘Mainstream Group’, will continue to have a disproportionate influence upon Party policy for a long time yet to come, as evidenced by Hague’s subsequent announcement that his opposition to the Single Currency is limited to the duration of the next Parliament. If he felt that he had to qualify his original position then the most natural qualification would have been to say that it was ruled out for at least the duration of his leadership. Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Shropshire branch of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) one of the members goes out of his way to say that the West Midlands CBI backs Hague’s current policy on the single currency and wants us Shropshire MPs to make sure that he knows it.
When, on 3rd November, I find myself dining with ’22 Committee Vice Chairman, Geoffrey Johnson-Smith (Wealdon) he is seething about the way in which the seminar which the Mainstream Group plan to hold on November 6th is being portrayed as a rallying point for dissidents. More to the point he is angry about the potential this initiative has to create ‘a party within a party’, something which we so-called rebels had been so careful to eschew back in 1994.
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