Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Good for the goose...

Mr Charles Moore, erstwhile editor of The Daily Telegraph, does not have much sympathy for Howard Flight. In his Telegraph op-ed today, he believes "Michael Howard has acted ruthlessly - and rightly, too".

But the same Charles Moore, both in the op-ed and on the BBC lunchtime programme World at One, speaks for Adrian Hilton, the Conservative candidate for Slough, "sacked merely because the Catholic Herald recently attacked a couple of pro-Protestant articles he wrote two years ago." "If opponents see that the leadership will simply turn on any candidate against whom they can trump up an accusation, they will trump up a lot more," he writes.

But the more central point, which was raised on the World at One programme, was that Hilton has not been deselected for anything he has recently said – or indeed for anything that contravenes Conservative Party policy. Having been approved as a candidate by Central Office, which had full knowledge of Hilton's views, action has been taken retrospectively.

Actually, according to The Times, Hilton was sacked two weeks ago after complaints about an article he wrote for the Spectator magazine in 2003 that portrayed the European Union as a papist plot that would extend Vatican sovereignty over Britain.

Now, the Slough association has refused to play ball and is now in "supported status" - which means that its officers are suspended and all decisions made by a representative from Conservative Central Office. The party leadership decided last week that Sheila Gunn, John Major's former press secretary, would replace Mr Hilton as the official candidate.

A few days ago, we noted on this Blog that it had not entirely escaped notice that Michael Howard's ruthless deselection of Howard Flight, for deviating from the party line on public spending, was not matched by equivalent action against those Tory MPs who depart from the line on the European Union.

And although we hold no brief whatsoever for Adrian Hilton – nor agree with his views – once again we note that it is a Eurosceptic that has incurred the wrath of the party.

But what is more significant is that the action is being taken for views expressed two years ago, simply on the basis of a complaint made now – alleged to have come from, incidentally, none other than the serial Europhile John Selwyn Gummer.

Mr Moore talks and writes about fairness and equitable treatment in this respect and, if past sins are now to be taken into account, surely this must apply fairly across the board.

In that context, on 19 October, Tory MP David Curry had published in the Yorkshire Post a long article condemning the official Conservative Party policy on repatriating the Common Fisheries Policy, an article which has since been quoted with glee by Denis MacShane and fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw.

Curry followed this up with a letter to the same newspaper on 2 November, headed "Britain cannot abandon European fishing policy", the statements made then and previously being in direct conflict with the personal commitment made by Mr Howard to repatriate the fishing policy.

On this basis, if Adrian Hilton has to go, then on better and more secure grounds, David Curry should be deselected forthwith. What is good for the goose should be good for the gander.

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