Some of what the Tory press has been saying is very vicious.”The fresh outbreak of acrimony came as the Tory party cranked up attempts to bury the issue before the conference gets under way today.Sir Norman Fowler, a former party chairman, dismissed Mr Howarth’s claim that up to 40 Tory MPs shared his feelings about Conservative policies. But he gave her “marks for trying” to stop Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, appealing to the “worst nature” of the Tory party by seeking to make employers screen immigrants. The MP went on to dismiss newspaper reports linking his move to the recent breakdown of his marriage “It was, I suppose, par for the course. I think her comments are silly and unfortunate,” he said.
Mr Howarth also criticised Mrs Shephard for failing to secure extra resources to improve educational standards.
“I’ve heard she has lowered the tone of the discussion, calling me vindictive and suggesting that I am in mental turmoil “People will have to form their own judgement. The Stratford on Avon MP criticised Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, for making the suggestion. The political defector Alan Howarth hit back yesterday at claims that he deserted the Tory party for personal reasons and a “mid-life crisis”. It could equally have been entitled the Battle for the Soul of the Conservative Party, such is the determination the issue continues to provoke.
The meeting, to be followed up by two fringe appearances by the vanquished leadership challenger John Redwood, show that this year, as in all others in recent memory, the big battles will take place away from the anaesthetised atmosphere of the conference hall. It is a scene repeated in hotel venues all over Blackpool this week.Nothing can quite match the almost revivalist fervour of the Tory fringe – and its domination by one faction of the party.At another Freedom Association/National Young Conservatives event, right wingers Edward Leigh MP and Iain Duncan-Smith will speak on The Future of Conservatism.Then follows the first of the well-established crowd-pulling annual events, the Thatcherite Conservative Way Forward lunchtime meetings where Michael Portillo will get his opportunity to speak to the converted, while Peter Lilley takes the microphone at a second lunchtime Way Forward meeting.Possibly buoyed by the summer reshuffle, but probably because it is not in their nature, a full-bloodied fightback by the centre-left is hard to divine.The Bow Group will debate the future of the British film industry, and the Conservative Group for Europe has convened no speakers, holding only a reception – although the Tory Reform Group has invited Stephen Dorrell, Secretary of State for Health, to speak at its dinner.The Sunday Telegraph has organised a debate between Mr Dorrell and Mr Redwood on Thursday night.. He seems to have become disillusioned about the time he got the sack as a minister.”Today’s businessMorning session: Debates on agriculture (key speaker: Douglas Hogg); rural affairs (John Gummer); address by the party chairman, Brian Mawhinney.Afternoon session: Debates on foreign affairs and Europe (Malcolm Rifkind); defence (Michael Portillo); and national heritage, including the Lottery (Virginia Bottomley)..
A fringe meeting called Europe – the Battle for Britain, and hosted by the right-wing Freedom Association, is due to be held tonight. All the members of the so-called Group of Seven, formerly whipless, MPs are down to speak. “I think Central Office was daft to let him in,” she said.”It’s funny. Most have been from Labour to the Conservatives.”Lady Doreen Miller, chairman of Greater London Tories, blamed the Tory party leadership for accepting Mr Howarth as a Conservative. We can go onto the attack when Labour begin to tell us what their policies are.”Sir Norman Fowler, the former Conservative Party chairman, tried to steady nerves over Mr Howarth’s resignation “It is not going to overshadow the conference There has been a trade in the other direction. I am sick of being battered for things that are not our fault”.Her husband, Michael, said: “The test will be in positive policies put forward because the one thing there was last week at the Labour Party conference was a complete absence of commitments, apart from the song and dance about the BT deal. Roseanne Dane, from Esher and Walton, said Tony Blair was a “hard act to follow We need enthusiasm from this conference.