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Conference 99 Tuesday, 14 September, 1999, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Single currency: Many opinions
The majority of the party is opposed to the euro
A guide to what may be some of the hot topics at the Conservative Party conference.


This issue is set to dominate the conference following the Tories' success in the European elections - the first national poll that the party had won since the 1992 general election.

Although less than one in four of the electorate bothered to vote, Conservative leader William Hague seized on the result as a vindication of his hostile approach to the single currency.

Mr Hague clearly believes this is an issue where Labour is vulnerable and has presented himself as the defender of the pound.

Former chancellor Kenneth Clarke supports the single currency
However, he has been careful not to entirely rule out ever joining the euro. But he says the UK should not consider signing up until at least after the general election after next.

Europhile Tories are increasingly alarmed about the way the party's direction.

They are appalled that figures, like party chairman Michael Ancram, are calling for the UK to renegotiate the terms of its membership of the European Union.

Some Tories are so fed up that they are no longer prepared to go along with the Eurosceptic thrust of party policy.

The breakaway Pro Euro Conservative Party fielded rival candidates against the Tories in the European elections.

However, their attempt to undermine Mr Hague's leadership failed as they were crushingly defeated in the poll.

Despite this setback the party is pressing on. It will hold a one-day conference in London on the eve of the start of the Conservatives' Blackpool conference.

Two senior Tories who backed the rebels have paid the price for their defiance.

Former Cabinet minister Lord Gilmour and the former MP Sir Julian Critchley had their Conservative membership "terminated".

Attention is now focusing on the two most senior Europhiles who remain in party ranks, Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine.

The pair of former Cabinet ministers have given their backing, along with the prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, to the pro-European Britain in Europe pressure group.

This may set them on a collision course with Mr Hague when Britain in Europe begins its campaigning in earnest this autumn.

Hunting and farming

The Tories are likely to use the conference to highlight their claims that Labour is threatening the rural way of life.

Mr Hague has pledged to defend fox-hunting
They have accused the government of failing to do enough to help farmers whose incomes have been drastically hit by plummeting prices.

The pledge that the prime minister made in July to make fox hunting illegal has also provided the Conservatives with another opportunity to rouse the shires.

Mr Hague has aligned himself closely with the Countryside Alliance who managed to mobilise 250,000 protesters to march through London last time a hunt ban was threatened in 1998.

The Tory leader has characterised the issue as one of personal freedom. He says that while He does not hunt himself he will defend the rights of those people who do to continue.

Fox hunting
While many Tories are hunt supporters there have been some noticeable exceptions such as the late MP and animal rights activist Alan Clark.

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe is a passionate supporter of the ban - for which Labour has yet to publish legislation.

As a result, Mr Hague has ruled that she will not be allowed to speak for the party on this issue.

He has given that role to her deputy, David Liddington.

The leader

William Hague: Safe for now?
While Mr Hague is currently riding high after his European election victory the questions over his leadership have never been properly settled for some party members.

The numerous attempts to upgrade his image also reflect a continuing public indifference to the Tory leader.

Europhiles and other Conservatives on the left of the party have the most reason to want to get rid of him.

However, most media speculation has suggested that a challenge would be mostly likely to come from the right of the party in the form of Ann Widdecombe or Michael Portillo.

The Ashcroft affair

The Tory Party largely closed ranks to defend its treasurer and chief benefactor when questions were raised about his controversial business methods in July.

Billionaire tycoon Michael Ashcroft is taking legal action against The Times over allegations it made about his activities in Belize.

Michael Ashcroft: Controversial party treasurer
Conservative chairman Michael Ancram has insisted that Mr Ashcroft has been the victim of a politically-motivated conspiracy.

Mr Hague also rejected calls in the media for him to sack his treasurer.

Labour MPs claimed that as Mr Ashcroft has given at least 2m to party funds since 1997 the Tory leader could hardly afford to get rid of him.

It remains to be seen if the Tories will use the conference to mount a further defence of Mr Ashcroft or will choose to ignore the issue.

See also:

23 Jun 99 | UK Politics
28 Jul 99 | UK Politics
25 Jul 99 | UK Politics
16 Sep 99 | Fox hunting
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