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EDITIONS
Friday, 9 October, 1998, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
Tory MEP defects to Lib Dems
James Moorhouse
James Moorhouse: no longer at home with the Tories
The Tories suffered another day of Euro-troubles on Thursday when one of their MEPs defected to the Liberal Democrats, while the threat of expulsion over another two was withdrawn as suddenly as it was wielded.

James Moorhouse, one of the Conservatives' longest-serving MEPs, said he made the switch because he considered the Lib Dems the only party now "truly committed to a positive relationship with Europe".

William Hague shrugged off the defection as "not exactly a friendly act".

Re-selection loser

The 74-year-old MEP, who has represented London South and Surrey East since 1979, recently failed to win reselection as a Euro-candidate for next year's European Parliament elections.

He said the Conservatives had originally played a constructive role in Europe but William Hague's ballot on the single currency had been the final straw.

He told BBC News Online: "The mood of the Conservative Party is moving more and more over to the right , which I don't like, and is hostile to the European venture."

Mr Moorhouse admitted he had not been a great advocate of the single currency, but the party's position under William Hague had made the Tories unelectable.

'Hague outclassed'

He said: "Given that 11 other countries have set it up or are about to I think it would be foolish to cut off the possibility of joining and that's basically what the Conservative Party wants to do."

The MEP told BBC News Online he had been thinking about going over to the Liberal Democrats for several months after being "frozen out" of the Tory Party.

He had met Paddy Ashdown, the Lib Dem leader, for the first time and agreed on many of his party's policies.

Mr Moorhouse, who did not attend this week's Tory conference in Bournemouth, hinted there may be other MEPs and party members who would leave the party for the Lib Dems.

A breakaway group would also gain a lot of support from pro-Europeans and the business community, he said.

"Mr Hague has been completely outclassed by Mr Blair and will continue to be outclassed."

There were a lot of suitable successors to Mr Hague who would benefit the party more than its current leader, he said.

Mr Moorhouse was one of the MEPs who wrote to The Times on 10 September protesting against William Hague's policy on the euro and his decision to hold a ballot of party members on it.

Ultimatum

Stevens and Donnelly
Donnelly and Stevens consider the ultimatum on Thursday morning
Two co-signatories of that letter, Tory MEPs Brendan Donnelly and John Stevens, had the prospect of summary expulsion from the party threatened and then withdrawn in the same day.

On Thursday morning the party leadership gave the two an ultimatum to prove their loyalty by the afternoon - or have the whip withdrawn.

The deadline was issued following reports that South Sussex MEP Mr Donnelly and Thames Valley MEP Mr Stevens had been investigating the possibility of joining other parties in the European Parliament.

By late afternoon Tory chiefs were doing their best to play down the affair.

Outgoing party chairman Lord Parkinson announced the threatened two would be staying in the Tory Party as "a number of misunderstandings have been resolved".

Parkinson
Lord Parkinson: "Dog didn't bite man!"
He said the pair "remain committed to the party and to serving as Conservative MEPs on exactly the same basis as before".

He issued a statement confirming that "individual MEPs, like backbench MPs and other members of the party, were entitled to hold and express their own views on economic and monetary union."

Lord Parkinson later said the entire episode had arisen from a misunderstanding.

"It's the biggest non-story of all time," he said. "Dog didn't bite man!"

Breakaway poll

Mr Stevens and Mr Donnelly had commissioned an opinion poll into the viability of a breakaway pro-European, pro-single currency Tory party.

The poll, conducted by Mori, asked 1,849 people whether they would support a party led by Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine, and in favour of the European single currency.

The findings were that while 16% would back the existing Tories led by Mr Hague, some 10% would back the breakaway party.

And 82% believed the UK would have joined the euro in ten years' time - while 59% agreed it could not stay in the EU if it did not eventually join the single currency.

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 ON THIS STORY
BBC News
James Moorhouse tells BBC News Online: The Tories are moving too far right
BBC News
Moorhouse: Hague's ballot was the final straw
BBC News
Moorhouse: Hague has been outclassed
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07 Oct 98 | Politics

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