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Former Tory Deputy Prime Minister: Michael Hesseline is voting for Bill Newton Dunn

May 19, 2019 1:44 PM
Writing in the Sunday Times Michael Hesseltine says:

Until the Tories see sense on a people's vote, I will give mine to the Lib Dems

On Thursday I have a vote. I am not a natural abstainer. I did, however, do just that in the last mayoral elections. I simply could not vote for a Conservative candidate campaigning to undermine London's position as Europe's premier financial centre.

Many months ago I warned that a lot of Conservatives would never vote for a Brexit party. In the inevitable outcry I was accused of every sort of treachery. My opinion stands but now the evidence is incontrovertible. I have already made it clear that I will not vote Conservative but this time neither will I abstain.

In four days' time, when I place my cross on the ballot paper for the European parliamentary elections, I will vote for a party other than the Conservatives.

Bill Newton Dun

Bill Newton Dunn

I will, however, still be voting for someone I regard as a "Conservative". Where I live in Northamptonshire, Bill Newton Dunn is top of a list of Liberal Democrat candidates to whom I am happy to lend my support.

Before our party was infected by the virus of extremism, he was a Conservative MEP in the best traditions of Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan and, yes, Margaret Thatcher, whose Bruges speech in 1988 made it clear that "our destiny is in Europe".

And, unlike Bill, I have no intention of being forced out - or resigning from - a party that has been such an important part of my life. I will remain a member of my local association and, unless told otherwise, will continue to take the Conservative whip in the Lords.

The reason for my experiment with the Lib Dems is, of course, the government's position on Brexit. I cannot, with a clear conscience, vote for my party when it is myopically focused on forcing through the biggest act of economic self-harm ever undertaken by a democratic government.

But I still care too deeply for my party not to be concerned for its future. And I know my fellow Conservatives too well not to see the danger signs in how they will react to what will inevitably be disastrous results in these elections. The lazy narrative will be that Nigel Farage has triumphed and the Conservative Party has no alternative but to deliver the kind of "no deal" Brexit for which he now shamelessly claims he always campaigned. Such a narrative has the capacity to distort politics, destroy our party and inflict deep damage on our country. Its logic leads to a hasty removal of the prime minister and a summer leadership election where candidates compete for who can be the most "Faragiste".

This would not, of course, resolve the deadlock in parliament. A new Conservative prime minister would doubtless feel mandated by the party to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement and remove the backstop. Nobody believes this is possible but it would help entrench the narrative that the European Union, not us, is responsible for this dreadful predicament.

The government could choose one of two options. It could seek to run the clock down to a no-deal "crash-out" from the EU. Or it could seek a mandate in an election where our party might be forced into some sort of alliance with Farage. None of us can rule out the prospect of that resulting in Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister.

Such a choice - a no-deal Brexit or a Marxist government - is not one I wish to contemplate. Nor can we entirely exclude the possibility of ending up with both, given the stated preference of some of Corbyn's coterie for the kind of "socialism in one country" that should have disappeared with the Berlin Wall.

The Conservatives, who were once known as the sensible party of the national interest, can yet respond to these elections in a way that is neither complacent nor panicked. As many have concluded, the solution to this crisis is to put any final deal back to the people.

There are good reasons why Conservatives have been reluctant to support another referendum until now. But, with the prospect of a descent deeper into this darkness for our party, it is the only way to solve the riddle, to secure a stable majority in parliament and a lasting settlement for the country.

It is a pragmatic and necessary solution that cannot be put off much longer. It is a democratic answer to a crisis in our democracy that will otherwise see our economy brought to ruin, businesses bankrupted and our precious Union broken apart.

Even though I cannot vote Conservative at these elections, I want to appeal to mainstream MPs in my party not to turn their back on the 5m Tory supporters who voted "remain" in 2016 and to resist the siren calls of populism.

I know something of the loneliness that surrounds defiance of a three-line whip. In the end MPs must decide who they are, what they believe in, where their loyalty lies. British influence in the world, our nation's prosperity and the inheritance we pass to a younger generation - all will call upon them to stand by their convictions that Britain's best interests depend on our ability to influence the destiny of Europe.

The issue could not be more urgent. Time is short. The stakes are huge.

Michael Heseltine was deputy prime minister, 1995-97