Poll of MEPs reflects Tory divide over Clarke and Duncan Smith

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Series Details Vol.7, No.32, 6.9.01, p4
Publication Date 06/09/2001
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Date: 06/09/01

By James Lorenz and John Shelley

UK CONSERVATIVE MEPs are deeply divided over who to support in their party's leadership election, according to a poll conducted by European Voice.

The survey shows that deputies are split over whether to vote for the eurosceptic Iain Duncan Smith or the pro-European Ken Clarke in next Thursday's (13 September) leadership election. Just over a third of MEPs said they would vote for Duncan Smith and the same proportion are backing Clarke.

Ten of the 36 deputies refused to declare their voting intentions.

Geoffrey Van Orden, who sits on the Parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee, said: "I would strongly support Iain Duncan Smith since he objects to the unnecessary interference and mismanagement of the EU and the direction that the EU is heading in with its crushing uniformity and alien ambition to create a European state."

Martin Callanan, Niranjan Deva, Daniel Hannan, Roger Helmer and Philippe de Villiers are among those who are also backing Duncan Smith.

Caroline Jackson, chair of the Parliament's environment committee, heads a group which includes Robert Sturdy, Christopher Beazley, John Bowis, Bashir Khanbhai and John Purvis, supporting former Chancellor of the Exchequer Clarke. "Iain Duncan Smith will rip the party apart," she warned.

More than 300,000 postal votes are expected to have been cast so MEPs' votes are unlikely to be crucial.

Nonetheless, the results of the European Voice poll will make depressing reading for Clarke, who may fear that if he cannot convince the majority of the party's MEPs to vote for a pro-European candidate, he will have little chance of winning over the eurosceptic grass roots of the party.

Whichever way the vote goes, the results could have serious consequences for the political alignments within the European Parliament. Some suggest that a win for Duncan Smith would mean the Tories abandoning the European People's Party (EPP) grouping in the assembly. Although this would not undermine the EPP's status as the largest political entity, it would significantly weaken its position in relation to the socialists, who are the second-largest group.

One Conservative MEP, David Sumberg, said: "I would have no difficulty going alone in terms of principle."

UK Conservative MEPs are deeply divided over who to support in their party's leadership election, according to a poll conducted by European Voice.

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