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Programme highlights Monday, 30 April, 2001, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Hague caught between left and right
Tory MP John Townend
John Townend's remarks have caused widespread offence
Somehow, the Tory leader William Hague has manoeuvred himself into a position where he may have to choose between John Townend or John Taylor.

The free speech, libertarian argument doesn't defend racist views

Giles Marshall, Tory Reform Group
If he allows John Townend to stay in the party he looks likely to lose John Taylor, one of the few substantial figures in his party from the black community.

If he gives in to pressure from Lord Taylor, and sacks John Townend, he risks offending large swathes of his core supporters who believe that an important principle of freedom of speech is at stake.

Siren voices lure him from either side. And Mr Hague knows that siren voices lead unwary travellers onto the rocks.


Lord Taylor, sounding increasingly like a man ready to jump ship, first laid out his concerns on Friday's World at One.

On Monday he said he wanted to remain in the Conservative party, because it had so few black and Asian members, and refused to be drawn on the nature of any contacts with the Labour Party.

Tory peer Lord (John) Taylor
Lord Taylor's criticism of William Hague was read as an ultimatum by many
Faced with this dilemma which way should Mr Hague jump? The Shadow Foreign Secretary Francis Maude said first and foremost the party needed to make clear that Mr Townend's comments had no place with any democratic party.

"We just have to say what we believe in [and] what kind of party we are - a party in which racist sentiments, however dressed up in euphemisms, is completely unacceptable," he said.

Free speech?

But if Mr Hague were to give in to Lord Taylor's demands he would run into a storm of a different kind.

Lawrence Robertson is the Tory MP for Tewkesbury, and he said that, despite Lord Taylor's remarks, there was no need for Mr Hague to choose between either Lord Taylor or John Townend.

Tory leader William Hague
Some Tories feel William Hague has failed to act decisively
"There would be an outcry if somebody was sacked from the party for the views they hold on any issue. What would that say about the right to free speech [and] about political debate in this country?" he said.

So pressure to the right of him and pressure to the left as well. The Tory Reform Group counts many MPs in its number - and this morning its chairman, Giles Marshall, added his voice to that of Lord Taylor in calling for John Townend to be sacked.

He said his group didn't see much of a dilemma. The leadership should side with Lord Taylor:

"The free speech libertarian argument doesn't defend racist views. When I first heard John Townend's views as an ordinary Tory member of the public I was shocked ," he said.

The opposition

So what sort of contacts are there between Labour and Lord Taylor? He has made no secret of the fact that he has been approached many times about moving to another party, but he would always felt he should stay with the Conservatives in order to change the party.

The Labour peer Lord Desai, who is a friend of Lord Taylor's, said the Labour party had the mechanisms in place to recruit disgruntled Tories.

"It would not be so much a coup to us, but a blow to the Conservatives. We would be delighted to have someone like John Taylor," he said.

He said he would advise Lord Taylor to remain in the party until he was expelled because that would prove he was prevented from being a Conservative by the leadership.

"It's beginning to look like the Conservative party cannot contain a broad spectrum of opinion any more," he said.

In the light of these competing pressures, Lord Taylor reiterated his claim that he had not been talking to Labour recently, and still intends to stay to fight his corner with the Tories.

In Downing Street, meanwhile, the Prime Minister's official spokesman, Alistair Campbell, said that he personally had not been involved in any contacts with Lord Taylor, nor was he aware of anyone in government talking to the Tory peer.

Lawrence Robertson, Tory MP for Tewkesbury
No need for a choice between Lord Taylor or John Townend
Tory Reform Group chairman, Giles Marshall
John Townend should be sacked
Shadow Foreign Secretary Francis Maude
John Townend's comments were racist
Labour peer and friend of Lord Taylor, Lord Desai
Lord Taylor should not jump ship, but wait to be expelled
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