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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK

Heseltine spurns Blair's invitation

"This government lives in a fools' paradise"

Michael Heseltine has rejected Prime Minister Tony Blair's appeal to Tory supporters to defect to New Labour as "political opportunism".

The Conservative former deputy prime minister attacked Mr Blair's claim that it was no longer possible for traditional "One Nation" Tories to stay in the party.

Insisting he had not been tempted "in the least" by the appeal, Mr Heseltine dismissed it as "pure hypocrisy".

The Henley MP told BBC Radio 4's The World at One programme: "In the early '80s - when he had a party which was against Europe, which was demonstrating against nuclear weapons - did Tony Blair follow the Social Democrats into the wilderness on behalf of his party?

"Certainly not - he stayed there and fought the battles."

'Political opportunism'

"The idea that he should sort of patronise us and suggest that we're going to suddenly do what he himself never dreamed of doing when he had the chance is, frankly, just political opportunism."

Dismissing the possibility that Labour could tempt prominent Tories such as himself or former chancellor Kenneth Clarke to defect, Mr Heseltine said they were "an essential feature of that coalition of interests upon which the prospects of re-election for a Conservative government depend".

But he accepted there was a risk some Tories might be persuaded by Mr Blair's attempt to promote New Labour as the party of consensus and togetherness.

"Of course people will be tempted by that when the economy is lulling them, if you like, into a sense of false security.

"It's only when things start going wrong ... that they then turn on that government. This government is living in a fools' paradise."

'Class war is over'

The appeal from Mr Blair came after he announced to the Labour Party conference on Tuesday that the class war was over.

The following day he invited Tories to join him: "I think there are people in the Conservative Party today who believe in fairness and enterprise going together, who see a Labour government that is now a modern party and feel more at home - and should feel more at home - in today's Labour Party than they do in a Conservative Party more extreme than ever before."

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe, speaking on The World at One, also rejected Mr Blair's claim that New Labour now stood for inclusiveness.

She cited the reported booing of private school girl musicians at a fringe meeting. "If Labour is still moved by that sort of ideological purity then all I can say is avoid their tent like the plague."

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