Bernard Dineen: Own goal as Tories force out a decent man

THE departure of the former leader of the Tory MEPs, Edward McMillan-Scott, to join the LibDems is a sad business. He hasn't "defected": he was forced out.

The trouble began when a would-be Palmerston in the Tory leadership decided to engage in European power politics. This juvenile exercise involved withdrawing from a mainstream EU group and joining a ragbag alliance of East Europeans.

At a stroke, it offended European conservatives and provided an excellent opportunity for the Left to smear the new "allies". Given the nature of recent East European history, that wasn't difficult. It was supposed to strike a blow against federalism; instead, it has proved

a disaster.

McMillan-Scott, a respected Vice-President of the European Parliament, was ordered to stand aside to make way for a Polish politician – to the bewilderment of Tory voters, who could not understand this tomfoolery. McMillan-Scott did what anyone with a scrap of self-respect would have done: he stood again and won a resounding victory.

This was the point at which the Tory leadership should have cut their losses. Instead, he was expelled, in a manner worthy of the Workers' Revolutionary Party rather than the Conservatives. I don't know who has imported this nasty streak of intolerance into the party but I don't like it.

This is not the only piece of stupidity. Another brainwave was to give valuable support to President Saakaghvili of Georgia, a man who nearly caused a major war by launching a brutal assault on Georgia's Russian-speaking province, which gave the Russians an opportunity to intervene.

The blunder was compounded by welcoming the hotheaded fool as guest of honour at the Tory Party conference. Who is taking these decisions?

This whole episode is a piece of unnecessary, self-inflicted damage at a time when the party should be concentrating on winning the next General Election.

I am at the opposite end of the EU spectrum from McMillan-Scott. I abhor the idea of a federal Europe. I think the EU has become a swollen bureaucracy which infringes our national sovereignty. I believe it has expanded beyond all reason. The plan for a host of EU ambassadors who would usurp the authority of nation states is the latest threat.

I know McMillan-Scott only slightly, but over the years I have met hundreds of people who have had dealings with him. Without exception, they have spoken of his transparent decency and courtesy. The list of people and organisations that he has helped in this region is endless. He has respected other people's views and never sought to push his own down others' throats.

If there is no room for men like McMillan-Scott in the Conservative Party, it says more about the present leadership than it does about him. No one was more Eurosceptic than Margaret Thatcher but she worked with colleagues like Ken Clarke because she was a realist, and she had no intention of destroying the party.

The Tory Party is either a broad church or it is nothing. Only a few years ago, it nearly tore itself to shreds with squabbles about Europe. Some of the sour comments about McMillan-Scott now make me think the lesson still hasn't been learnt.

These people should get it into their skulls that the only way of preserving Britain's independence against an encroaching EU is to get into power. And there is no chance of getting into power with a disunited party. In short, they should belt up.

THE greatest delusion about Afghanistan is that Nato forces are going to "win the hearts and minds" of the people. Fat chance when they are leaving a trail of dead and maimed civilians after combat blunders.

Two pregnant women and a teenage girl were killed in a recent night raid by American special forces on a policemen's home because of faulty intelligence. The first deployment of these forces led to the deaths of 19 people when the troops started firing at passing traffic following a suicide attack. An airstrike by the US Marines left more than 100 civilians dead and another killed 90. The Americans have a taste for gung-ho assaults by Delta Force and the US Navy Seals, as can be seen from innumerable Hollywood films. They should stay in Hollywood and keep out of Afghanistan.

How many more coffins are going to be paraded through Wootton Bassett before someone admits that the whole campaign is Mission Impossible?