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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 11:06 GMT
Euro MP 'defects' to Tories
Richard Balfe
Mr Balfe complained of Labour's "arrogance"
Labour's longest-serving Euro MP Richard Balfe is joining the Conservative Party because of what he called Labour's "growing arrogance and dishonesty".

Mr Balfe, understood to be the first elected politician to cross the floor to the Tories in 25 years, also said the party had failed to "get a grip" on public services.

Balfe's career
Born 1944
1961 joined Civil Service
1973-77 GLC member
Elected to European parliament 1979
2002 Expelled from Labour Party
2002 defects to Conservatives
"Despite all its talk of reforming the NHS, transport and education, Labour has delivered little," he said.

Mr Balfe told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Tony Blair got rid of me from the Labour Party, which was the best thing that's happened to me, and I had a good look around and I thought 'the Conservatives are actually the relevant party these days' - so I joined them.

"I don't think it's an odd match. It is the party today for people who want a clean government, a democratic state and opportunities for people."

He added: "I am not trying to be a prima donna. I am happy to be part of Duncan Smith's team."

Mr Balfe had been attached to the Labour party for 41 years.

He joined the European Parliament's Labour group in 1979, but was expelled two months ago after a dispute with its leadership, and has since been sitting as an independent.

'Contempt for Parliament'

Writing in the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, he attacked Prime Minister Tony Blair as being "mesmerised by millionaires" and leading a sleazy government.

His decision to join the Tories seems bizarre given Iain Duncan Smith's extreme anti-European agenda

Labour group in Europe spokesman
"People are profoundly fed up with the trendy, metropolitan and urban-biased style of a Blair government where every job seems to go to a friend and/or party donor.

"The Byers affair and the Mittal scandal are symptomatic of a deeper malaise within the Labour leadership - a contempt for Parliament, for democracy and, ultimately, for the truth.

Mr Balfe also argued that New Labour justified its tactics by accepting the notion that as long as they retained power the "end justified the means".

He added: "Labour sleaze goes right to the heart of government and infects everything it does."

Duncan Smith 'delighted'

Mr Balfe said he had been no fan of previous Conservative regimes, but the overhaul of the party under Iain Duncan Smith had been vital to his decision.

People feel very, very let down because their hopes were so high

Tory MP Ann Widdecombe
"The most striking difference between the party of which I was a member and the one I am joining is that the Conservative Party under Iain Duncan Smith is a tolerant party which accepts differing opinions and encourages debate," he wrote.

Mr Duncan Smith, due to pose for a photo-call with Mr Balfe later in the day, said he was "delighted" with the move.

"People are beginning to understand that the Conservatives are engaged in a genuine attempt to make our public services fit for the 21st century," he said.

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith: "Delighted"

Tory party chairman David Davis said of Mr Balfe: "He actually doesn't support our policy on the euro but he understands that we are a party that has a proper attitude to debate."

One of the reasons why Mr Balfe "fell out" with Labour was because it did not like him being elected twice as a quaestor - a very senior appointment within the European Parliament - said Mr Davis.

"They didn't like his prominence, as it were, independent of the party machine," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

A spokesman for the Labour group in Europe said the move "seems bizarre, given Iain Duncan Smith's extreme anti-European agenda... combined with the Tories' plans to cut billions of pounds off our public services."

Mr Balfe is one of 10 MEPs who represent the London Region at the European Union.

He told the BBC that he was unlikely to seek re-election as a Tory.

"There are plenty of useful roles other than being an elected member."

The BBC's Norman Smith
"Mr Balfe's defection has been hailed by Tories as a potential turning point"
Richard Balfe MEP
"The Conservatives are actually the relevant party these days"

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See also:

11 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Lib Dems seek to build on defections
10 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Labour MP defects to Lib Dems
22 Oct 01 | UK Politics
From disaffection to defection
02 May 01 | UK Politics
Plot to poach Tory peer denied
22 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Tory MEP defects to Lib Dems
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