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The BBC's political correspondent Nick Robinson
"[Michael Heseltine] has re-opened the European wounds in the party"
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Saturday, 3 March, 2001, 22:15 GMT
Heseltine's 'dilemma over voting Tory'
Michael Heseltine
Party officials are playing down Mr Heseltine's remarks
Veteran Tory MP Michael Heseltine has stressed he will support William Hague at the election after admitting he had faced a "dilemma" over voting Conservative.

The former deputy prime minister made the confession to the Independent on Sunday, telling the paper: "Yes I have been in a dilemma but I have resolved it in my own mind."

He added: "I am going to vote Conservative. I have been a Conservative too long to do anything else."

Conservative Central Office sought to play down Mr Heseltine's remarks, issuing a statement from the MP pledging to back Mr Hague.

Mr Heseltine acknowledged his opposition to the Tory leader's Eurosceptic stance, in his statement.

Former chancellor Ken Clarke
Mr Heseltine wants Ken Clarke to return to frontline politics
But he said: "I have made it clear time and time again that I will vote Conservative at the next election.

"I have already accepted an invitation to speak on behalf of a Conservative candidate.

"My views on Europe are well known but any question of loyalty to the party I have supported for 50 years leaves me with the certain decision that I will continue to do so.

"William Hague has my support, as does the Conservative candidate in the constituency in which I live."

Clarke appeal

Mr Heseltine also told the newspaper that the Tories could reverse their dismal poll ratings by bringing back fellow pro-European Ken Clarke, who is currently exiled on the backbenches.

"The return of Ken Clarke would have an effect on the polls," said Mr Heseltine.

"He should be brought back for the campaign."

It is not only unhelpful but positively conspiratorial to make this public at the very time that the Tories are effectively launching their election campaign

Sir Teddy Taylor

'Supports the party'

William Hague himself dismissed suggestions that Mr Heseltine might have considered withdrawing his support from the party.

He told GMTV: "He made very clear in a statement last night that he categorically supports the Conservative Party, supports me, wants us to win the election, and that he won't do anything other than support the party he has supported for 50 years."

But there was an angry reaction from Sir Teddy Taylor, one of the party's leading Eurosceptic MPs, who accused Mr Heseltine of a "positively conspiratorial" attempt to embarrass the Tory leader.

"Those of us who have watched Mr Heseltine over a long period appreciate that he seems to go through these agonies of conscience just at the time when they can be most distracting for the party," he said.


"It is typical that he not only undergoes these nightmares of conscience but that he makes them public at the very time, almost, that Mr Hague is making an important speech.

"People would fully understand his agonies of conscience if he kept them to himself.

"But they get fed up when he makes them public on selected days which are of the greatest embarrassment to the party."

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See also:

18 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Clarke's warning over Tory policies
31 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Heseltine stirs asylum row
07 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Heseltine: Bring back Clarke
17 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Euro worth the 'risk' - Clarke
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