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Thursday, 8 October, 1998, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
'Pound safe under Tories'
Heath and Thatcher
The former prime ministers were given blue chairs
Delegates at the Conservative party annual conference have overwhelmingly backed William Hague's policy on Europe, but attempts to hide divisions over Europe were not completely successful.

The debate attempted to cast aside attempts to hijack the issue by pro-Europeans such as Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke.

Euro-sceptics were given resounding applause by the delegates as well as those who sat on the platform, including Baroness Thatcher.

Bank note
Tories want the Queen's head to remain on UK currency
Also present during the debate was the man Lady Thatcher ousted as Tory leader in 1975, Sir Edward Heath.

The pair, who have repeatedly clashed through their political careers over the issue of Europe and are rarely seen together, were applauded as they took their matching blue IKEA chairs.

But while Baroness Thatcher clapped the eurosceptic statements of speakers such as European parliamentary candidates as Theresa Villiers and Roger Helmer, Sir Edward was distinctly unmoved.

In his turn, Sir Edward was seen to put his hands together only for moderate Stephen Dorrell.

A momentous decision

The conference heard how "the pound will be safe with the Conservatives".

Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Howard said the result of the internal party ballot to back Mr Hague's policy of ruling out joining the single currency in this parliament and the next was in line with the view of the majority of the public.

Most people did not wanted to "bounced into Europe", he told the conference.

Mr Howard quoted his leader by saying: "We want to be in Europe but we don't want to be ruled by Europe."

The Tories were pre-European but did not want to see parliamentary democracy, powers of taxation and borrowing handed over to a superstate, he said.

Signing up to a single currency is a momentous decision, which once taken cannot be reversed, and should not be rushed, he said.

Britain would not be bossed and bullied, delegates heard.

Mr Howard told the conference: "We want countries to co-operate freely and whole heartedly, not to be dragooned into policies they do not agree with."

'Yesterday's men'

Mr Howard concluded a mixed debate which included an address from pro-European MP Stephen Dorrell.

He received a cheer as he announced he would not change his mind on the issue after voting No in Mr Hague's ballot.

But he told the conference the party had to spend more time showing the world what they agreed upon, rather than disagreed upon.

Mr Dorrell followed Theresa Villiers' strong put down of the pro-European dissenters despite their records of service to the party over the years.

She was cheered loudly when she told delegates: "They are yesterday's men talking yesterday's policies."

Theresa Villiers
Theresa Villiers explains her views to BBC News Online
After the debate, Ms Villiers told BBC News Online that people such as Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine had given the party distinguished service but were talking the politics of the past.

She added, however, that the Conservatives could tolerate dissenters and she did not want them consigned 'to the rubbish bin of history' or deselected by their local associations.

Thin blue line

The debate had been opened by Edward McMillan-Scott MEP, leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament.

The Tories were currently a thin blue line in Europe but next year's elections would change that, he said.

The issue had to be taken further than "Europe right or wrong, but Europe right or left".

An increase in the number of Tory MEPs could change the slim majority socialists held in the European Parliament.

He said: "The time has come for the Conservative party to save Europe.

"The challenge is clear, let's turn Europe Tory again."

BBC News
Michael Howard: "The pound will be safe with the Conservatives"
BBC News
John Kampfner: Leadership making a virtue of necessity
BBC News
Theresa Villiers: "Don't listen to the ex chancellors slugging it out on the fringe"
See also:

07 Oct 98 | Politics
07 Oct 98 | Politics
08 Oct 98 | Politics

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