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Wednesday, 2 August, 2000, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Tory defector targets Hague

Ivan Massow may find few friends in the Labour Party
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder.

At last Tony Blair has something to smile about.

After months of nothing but bad news, he can fly off to his Tuscan villa chuckling over the defection to Labour of prominent Tory Ivan Massow.

Despite Conservative attempts to play down Mr Massow's importance, the move is a definite setback to Mr Hague who counted him as a friend.

And the fact that Mr Massow's attacks have concentrated on Mr Hague's leadership will be particularly embarrassing.

Opposition leader William Hague
William Hague faces the brunt of attacks
It was particularly timely - and probably no coincidence - that he launched his attack on Tory intolerance as Mr Hague was in America talking about compassionate conservatism.

Mr Massow claimed: ""Under William the sad truth is that the Tories have become less compassionate, more intolerant and frankly just plain nasty."

This is exactly the sort of language Labour frontbenchers like to use when attacking the opposition and, inevitably, some see the hand of the prime minister's spin doctor Alastair Campbell at work here.

Drifted to right

The gay millionaire's move comes less than a year after frontbencher Shaun Woodward walked out of the Tory party to join New Labour.

And there are remarkable similarities between the two defections.

Both are opposed to the Tory line on Section 28 and both have suggested the party has drifted to the right under Mr Hague.

They both used very similar language to rubbish their former party and heap praise on their new one.

And it is highly likely that Mr Massow, like Mr Woodward before him, was "assisted" with his resignation comments by Labour aides.

It is also being speculated that he will now be offered a seat to fight for Labour at the next election although Tory aides pointed out he had never been on their candidates list.

London mayor

Some were also suggesting that Mr Massow's disillusion with the Tories started when he was unsuccessful in his attempt to become the party's candidate for London mayor.

However, while ministers were welcoming Mr Massow into the Labour ranks, it was less clear what sort of reception he would get from ordinary party members.

Tory defector Shaun Woodward
Shaun Woodward: not an easy time
Labour activists are notoriously suspicious of defectors and seldom welcome them to their bosom.

Mr Woodward has not had an easy time of it sine he crossed the floor and it is likely Mr Massow will face the same sort of freeze.

His love of fox hunting, as eagerly pointed out by the Tories, is also unlikely to win him many friends in the party.

And, while his defection is clearly bad news for Mr Hague, it is far less significant than Mr Woodward's.

And the opposition leader will be hoping the entire affair will turn into a one day wonder.

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See also:

02 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Tory adviser defects to Labour
02 Aug 00 | UK
Ivan Massow: Gay abandon
01 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Hague praises Bush
18 Dec 99 | UK Politics
Anger as Tory defects to Labour
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