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Monday, 30 April, 2001, 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK
Race row MP forced to apologise
William Hague makes his statement to reporters on Monday
Hague: Trying to defuse race row
Tory leader William Hague has forced outspoken MP John Townend to apologise for his comments on race.

Mr Hague said he had taken the "unprecedented" step of giving the MP an ultimatum to renounce his views on immigration or be expelled.


I think this is just another fudge hoping just to bury the matter quietly

Lord Taylor
But prominent Tory peer Lord Taylor, who threatened to resign from the party if Mr Townend was not disciplined, described the climbdown as "meaningless and worthless".

Former Conservative prime minister Sir Edward Heath agreed, saying Mr Hague should have got rid of the MP "without question".

Sir Edward, who sacked Enoch Powell from the Tory front bench within a day of his infamous "Rivers of Blood" speech, said his party failed to act quickly because it was on the "extreme right".

"So many of them feel and think the same way, there's the culprit," he told BBC News 24's One to One programme.

Mr Hague's move is an attempt to defuse the race row which has hit the Tories just days before the general election is expected to be called.

No truck

"We mean business about being an inclusive party which has no truck with racism," said Mr Hague.

"And we mean business about being a disciplined party determined to win election."

In his statement of apology, Yorkshire East MP Mr Townend said: "I entirely accept that racism has no place in the Conservative Party and am very sorry that ill-chosen words by me may have given a different impression."

MP John Townend
Mr Townend stands down at the election

Responding to rumours that Lord Taylor may defect to Labour over the row, Mr Hague said the black peer was being asked to sign an open letter from ethnic minority Tory candidates reaffirming their support for the Conservatives.

Asked what would happen if Lord Taylor refused to sign the open letter, Mr Hague said the "implication was pretty clear" - meaning he would put himself outside the party.

"I cannot allow people in receipt of the Conservative whip in the House of Lords to agonise publicly about whether they support the party," said Mr Hague.

Ill-advised

When asked about the declaration he was being asked to make Lord Taylor said: "This is the first I have heard about this document, they haven't approached me."

He said the letter was signed by parliamentary candidates - which as a member of the House of Lords does not include him.

"I think this is some sort of ill-advised tactic of William Hague's to isolate me."

And Lord Taylor was not satisfied with Mr Townend's apology.

"Does that mean that over the last two days he has gone dramatically from being an out and out racist and insulting to black and Asian people and all ethnic minorities to somebody who is totally the opposite? I think not.
Lord Taylor
Lord Taylor is considering his position

"I think this is just another fudge hoping just to bury the matter quietly before the election."

But later, Lord Taylor seemed to move towards conciliation with the Tory leadership, saying he wanted the party to win the general election and was prepared to sign Mr Hague's pledge.

He told BBC News: "I hope I can remain within the Conservative Party. I don't want to join any other party."

Mr Townend had denied he is racist and said immigration and asylum are important issues on which he must speak out.

Gesture politics

Mr Hague's action was attacked by Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

"Now he has absolutely embraced gesture politics," he said. "This is a terrible failure of leadership."

He branded Mr Townend's statement as "weasel words" and argued he had not repudiated his views.

Earlier, Trade Secretary Stephen Byers said that if Lord Taylor decided to leave the Conservatives he would be welcome in the Labour Party.

The prime minister's official spokesman later said that he was "not aware that anybody in the government has spoken to him."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"William Hague finally hit back"
Tory MP Peter Bottomley
"John Townend is no racist"
Tory Peer, Lord Taylor
"I don't want to cause any divisions within the Conservative Party"
William Hague MP, Conservative Party leader
"Racism can never be at home in the Conservative Party"
BBC News Online reports on the Tories' internal feud on race

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30 Apr 01 | UK Politics
17 Apr 01 | UK Politics
19 Mar 01 | UK Politics
14 Mar 01 | UK Politics
05 Mar 01 | UK Politics
30 Apr 01 | UK Politics
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