Sir James Goldsmith bore the brunt of a blazing attack on the Government's critics by Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, who yesterday accused the millionaire Referendum Party leader of commuting from his mansions abroad to threaten the Tories with defeat at home.
The speech drew a stamping, shouting ovation from the conference faithful, and it is expected to herald the beginning of an all-out attack on the Referendum Party by Tory leaders. He finished by signalling V for victory and five more years in office.
Mr Heseltine also turned his fire on the Tory Euro-sceptic rebels, warning them in the bluntest terms that the Tories could face 17 years in opposition like Labour if they appeared divided at the next election. "Let me be frank - if you want Labour in power, just go on behaving the way Labour behaved. That kept them in opposition for 17 years," he said. If they continued to cause divisions "at a time of maximum damage" to the party, they would deserve "utter contempt". But the Deputy Prime Minister reserved his most withering blast for the leader of the Referendum Party. It was a high-risk strategy, raising Sir James's credibility, and there was some questioning in the Heseltine camp before deciding to go ahead with the attack. The party chairman, Brian Mawhinney, was cautious about criticising Tory supporters of the Referendum Party earlier this week after it was disclosed that former Tory treasurer, Lord McAlpine, had defected and would be chairing Sir James's party conference next week. …