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Tuesday, 1 May, 2001, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Tories rebuke second MP over race
William Hague makes his statement to reporters on Monday
Hague: Trying to defuse race row
The Conservatives are promising to take "severe action" against one of the party's backbench MPs who has said the controversial remarks on race by John Townend are "basically true".

The move against Tewkesbury MP Laurence Robertson came after he said that Mr Townend, the Tory MP for Yorkshire East, had raised "important issues", and claimed that "cramming" together different racial groups was making society difficult to manage.

We have had enough, we've got an election coming up, our job is to fight Labour

Ann Widdecombe
Tory frontbencher
A spokesman at Conservative Central Office did not specify what form any action would take.

Ann Widdecombe, the shadow home secretary, said with a general election fight approaching the party hierachy had "had enough".

William Hague's efforts to draw a line under the continuing race row has been dealt a series of blows, including a warning from former Tory prime minister Sir Edward Heath that it has become an election issue.

Sir Edward said the Tory leader "without doubt" should have expelled Mr Townend from the party, which he said was on the "extreme right".

Veteran Tory rightwinger Lord Tebbit has also added his voice to the debate, saying he did not know of any "happy" multi-cultural society.

Laurence Robertson
Robertson is facing 'severe action'
Their interventions came after Mr Hague moved to get what Tory sources called a "grovelling apology" from Mr Townend.

"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 the election."

Mr Hague was backed by Miss Widdecombe, who told the BBC: "He's not putting up with any more nonsense from any angle of the party at all, he will clampdown on it wherever it occurs and therefore I'm quite sure that he will deal firmly with Laurence Robertson."

Shadow chancellor Michael Portillo also supported the Tory leader, saying he had shown firm and effective action against Mr Townend.

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

Lord Taylor
But earlier Sir Edward told BBC News 24's One to One programme: "He should have got rid of him without question...

"Look at the publicity he's got. Look at what he's done to the party, this is now going to be an election issue."

He said the party had been unable to act swiftly because it was placed on the "extreme right".

Mr Townend, in his apology statement, said he was "very sorry" for his remarks - but he has also insisted immigration and asylum are important issues on which he must speak out.

Open letter

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.

Lord Taylor told the BBC he was happy to sign the letter and hoped the Conservatives would win the next election.

Lord Taylor
Lord Taylor is considering his position
But he said he found it "odd" to be asked to put his name to a letter signed by parliamentary candidates when, as a member of the House of Lords, he is not one himself.

Lord Taylor, who has denied the defection speculation, was not satisfied with Mr Townend's apology.

It was "too little, too late".

It is understood action is being taken against Mr Robertson after he was warned not to express support for Mr Townend in public.

But he went ahead anyway, telling BBC Newsnight his colleague's comments were "basically true" but expressed offensively.

Mr Townend was raising important issues he said, adding: "Having too many people in different multi-racial groups makes society very difficult to manage, especially in certain parts of the country."

The BBC's political correspondent Laura Trevelyan
"William Hague has had enough of rebellious MPs"
Former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath
"Lord Taylor should stay in the party and state his view, and do as much as he can to change the views of others"
Former Conservative Chairman Lord Tebbit
"There's nothing racist about discussing whether a multicultural society is to the benefit of the country"
The BBC's Jonathan Hallewell
talks to grass roots Tories about the race affair
BBC News Online reports on the Tories' internal feud on race

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See also:

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
01 May 01 | Scotland
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