The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.60/No.22           June 3, 1996 
Divisions Sharpen In UK Tory Party  


LONDON, England - Deep divisions within the Conservative Party, in government since 1979, have sharpened recently. There is open talk of a split in the main party of Britain's ruling rich because of their inability to bolster London's weak position in the pecking order of the world's imperialist powers. The divisions center on Britain's membership in the European Union (EU) and plans for the formation of a single European currency by 1999. The Conservatives are also at odds because of their failure to crush the resistance to Britain's military occupation of Northern Ireland.

The Tories lost 573 seats in local councils elections May 2, their second worst performance in local election history. This result, previous electoral defeats, and a series of scandals have led the big-business press to predict a victory by the Labour Party at the general election. "In a year's time will almost certainly be living under a new government," the conservative Daily Telegraph commented May 15. "The emotions that the present Government evoke most often are frustration, anger and contempt," the paper said.

Tensions with EU over beef ban
"Britain powerless to act on beef ban" was the main Daily Telegraph headline May 16. London it said had "no effective sanctions against the European Union" as a worldwide ban on British-produced beef and beef products continued. The ban was imposed after a potential link between a fatal brain disease affecting beef cattle known as BSE and its human equivalent was admitted by Whitehall after denying it for several years. The BSE crisis had "already cost the Government 1 billion and inflicted considerable damage on the beef industry" said the Telegraph. British Prime Minister John Major had acknowledged, the paper said, that it was the biggest crisis since the 1982 war against Argentina over the Malvinas islands.

Government ministers predicted a partial lifting of the ban at a May 20 EU meeting. French President Jacques Chirac said he would support this move during a state visit to Britain May 15. The German government, however, continued to oppose any easing of the beef ban.

The beef ban has intensified the internal conflict in the Tory party over the EU. Former government minister John Redwood, who challenged Major for the conservative leadership last year, denounced the ban as an attack on a "potent symbol of British identity." Writing in the Financial Times May 16 he also attacked the single currency and other moves towards "a common foreign and defense policy." Britain would lose "our voice in the world and most of our capacity for self-government" he said.

Former cabinet minister Norman Tebbit argued that Britain's capitalists should look more to markets in Asia, in a debate on BBC television May 14 with another ex-minister, Edwina Currie.

Kenneth Clarke, the chancellor of the exchequer (finance minister) dismissed such views May 15. "The European Union is vital to our national interests, both commercial and political...The two are inextricably linked." he said. Supporters of a single currency like Clarke argue that it would reduce the costs to capitalists for foreign exchange transactions and fluctuations on the currency markets in Europe.

Billionaire launches Referendum Party
Meanwhile right-wing billionaire James Goldsmith has launched a new party, the Referendum Party, supported by ex-Conservatives including a former party treasurer. Goldsmith's party will contest the next election to the British Parliament, due within 12 months, on a single proposal to hold a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should leave the EU. Clarke attacked any proposal for a referendum. The same day fellow cabinet minister and chair of the Conservative Party Brian Mawinney said, "At the next election the Conservative Party will be the referendum party." The threat from Goldsmith, with whom Redwood held a much publicized meeting, has prompted speculation of a split. One conservative Member of Parliament, George Walden, told Channel 4 television that a split was inevitable and "quite a good thing."

However the political battle shakes out, Westminister will be pushing to cut workers' wages, conditions, and jobs. The EU Commission told London May 15 that it would not meet the criteria for monetary union under its current policies because of higher- than-forecast government debt. The commission called for more cuts in spending on government programs.

In Germany, proposed cuts in social security and wage-freezes for government workers led to one-day strikes May 13. In France unions have called for a national demonstration May 29 and one-day strikes in June following the announcement of further attacks by the French rulers.

Meanwhile divisions on Ireland have come also to the fore in the wake of remarks by Major in the Irish Times May 16 on the forthcoming peace talks scheduled for June 10. British demands for the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to hand over their weapons would be discussed "without blocking negotiations" Major said. "I want Sinn Fein to be part of the negotiations," he added, referring to the leading party fighting to end British rule in Northern Ireland. These latest statements prompted an unnamed cabinet minister to tell the Financial Times, "There is a view at the top of the party that we have gone as far as we can - and no more."

Ian Paisley, head of the rightist Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, described Major's statement as a "surrender to the IRA."

The Labour Party leadership meanwhile has shifted further to the right. Labour leader Tony Blair told a meeting of the British American Chamber of Commerce in New York April 12 that "today's Labour party, New Labour, is a party of the center as well as the center-left."

Labour's finance spokesperson, Gordon Brown, has floated plans to end child benefits currently paid for children 16-18 years old, while the social security spokesperson Chris Smith proposed on May 7 "welfare-to-work" measures and an end to the government backed "State Earnings Related Pension Scheme."  
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