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Sir Norman Fowler
"At times one feels we are intent on committing political suicide."
 real 28k

Christopher Heaton-Harris
"Just because one or two members of UKIP come and sit in the meetings, it doesn't necessarily mean they control them."
 real 28k

Thursday, 6 January, 2000, 13:21 GMT
Fowler warns of Tory 'political suicide'

SOS Democracy: New group will campaign over Europe

Former Tory chairman Sir Norman Fowler has called on MPs to rally behind the leader William Hague and his Europe policies - and warned that the party seemed "intent on committing political suicide".

Speaking as party leaders sought to play down a move by six Tory MEPs to set up a pressure group with members of the UK Independence Party, Sir Norman said that internal rows were destroying the message and Mr Hague deserved far more support from "more serious" party figures.

The six MEPs have joined with the UKIP's three members of the European Parliament to form SOS Democracy.

Sir Norman and other senior Conservatives denied that the development neither embarrassed the party nor increased pressure on Mr Hague's leadership.

"As far as I can understand, there is absolutely no question of them coming out of the Tory party, joining UKIP or anything of that kind," Sir Norman told the BBC.

"There's no question of the Tory party standing for coming out of Europe and I would have thought the significant thing that has actually happened over the last year is the way in which the MEPs have come into the general policy of the Tory party."

But he admitted that the party was suffering because of internal rowing. "At times one feels we are intent on committing political suicide," he warned. "Not because of a policy drift to the right but because of an internal running commentary which is drowning out our message.

"It's as if we've learnt nothing over the past 10 years. "Frankly, William Hague deserves much more support from everyone in the party, perhaps the most serious members of the party, than he's getting at the moment."

Sir Norman: 'Hague deserves more support'

Sir Norman said he did not believe the comments by former prime minister John Major about the Tories drifting to the right were not an attack on the leadership but he rebuked other criticism.

He said: "I don't think its true to say the Tory party is moving to an extreme right wing position. "That criticism has been made of every Tory leader of the opposition, it was made of Margaret Thatcher, it was made of Ted Heath.

"The policies, such as opposition to joining the Euro, more police on the beat, those policies are not extreme right wing, they are common sense policies.

"William Hague has established himself in Parliament as an undoubted master of the House of Commons. He is making a tremendous fist of being leader.

"I think what is lacking is not his leadership, what is lacking is the support of the Party absolutely."

Cross-party group

Christopher Heaton-Harris, Tory East Midlands MEP and a member of SOS Democracy, said the group wanted to inform the public about the workings of the European Parliament.

He played down the UKIP's role in the group and pointed out that a Labour MEP also attended its meetings.

He told the BBC: "It's basically like an all-party group in the House of Commons, so it's cross party.

"Essentially, at the moment, we've just chosen the name, I hope it's going to have a website and we're actually going to let people know what's going on in Europe."

He said: "Just because one or two members of UKIP come and sit in the meetings, it doesn't necessarily mean they control them."

The MEP denied the formation of the group would embarrass Mr Hague and said it was about campaigning on an agenda for democracy throughout Europe.

But Labour exploited the news of the development with Europe Minister Keith Vaz saying: "The secret partnership between Conservative MEPs and the UK Independence Party shows how far to the right William Hague's Tory party have lurched."

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See also:
03 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Gorman denies defection report
05 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Tories to hold Eurosceptic line
04 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Howe warns of more Tory defections
28 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Clarke savages Hague's leadership
30 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Hague denies drift to right
02 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Norris warns against move to right
30 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Major attacks Tory right

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