Mystery party to contest elections

A NEW centre-right party will contest the Scottish parliamentary elections in May on an anti-devolution platform, it emerged yesterday.

Mark Adams, a spokesman for the New Party for Britain, announced candidates would stand for regional lists in Scotland and Wales in a bid to exploit the growing frustrations with devolution.

The New Party for Britain is being set up by discontented Tories, business people who have played no active part in politics before and some Liberal Democrat and Labour voters.

Several wealthy businessmen are understood to have pledged enough money to get the party off the ground and to give it the resources necessary to fight this year’s election but the only backer to have been identified is Scottish aggregates magnate Robert Durward.

Mr Durward has refused to talk about his involvement with the New Party but a source close to the Lanarkshire quarry millionaire confirmed he was one of the party’s backers.

There has been speculation that Irvine Laidlaw, the multi-millionaire backer of the Scottish Tories, might desert the Conservatives for the New Party but a New Party source insisted Mr Laidlaw was not one of those involved.

The leading figures behind the party, including some current Tory politicians, will hold a two-day strategy meeting in private this week with a view to a formal launch next month.

One issue they are expected to tackle is the embarrassing name the New Party - it was chosen without anyone realising that it has strong links to 1930s fascism - it was the name of Sir Oswald Mosley’s first party.

Possible alternatives are understood to include the Progressives and the Progressive Democrats.

The New Party has been growing slowly for the past few months and a draft of the party’s first manifesto has already been circulated to founding members. However, it was not clear until yesterday whether the party would have the resources or the organisational ability to stand for election this year.

Speaking on GMTV’s Sunday Programme, Mr Adams said: "The elections that people should expect the New Party for Britain to feature in are the elections in Scotland and Wales in May.

"We will have some very interesting things to say to people in Scotland and Wales when we launch our manifestos there, about the constitutional arrangements in Scotland and Wales."

And he added: "It is curious isn’t it that such a large proportion of the electorate in Scotland and Wales are opposed to the constitutional arrangements that are there now but there is no political party in either to represent that opinion."

Mr Adams, a former Downing Street official, said it was too early to tell how many candidates the New Party would stand in Scotland but said the party would target the list system and predicted that it would gain some seats on May 1.

The New Party’s decision to stand in Scotland will alarm many in the Scottish Conservative Party who know that they stand to lose most from a new party targeting disaffected anti-devolution voters from the centre right.

Mr Adams admitted that the party was looking to attract votes and supporters from the Tory party which is further bad news for David McLetchie, the Scottish Tory Leader, who refused to comment on reports that the party’s own internal polling is predicting the loss of about six seats in May.

The emergence of the New Party is the latest in a number of initiatives designed to "break the mould" of Scottish politics by challenging the hegemony of the established parties.

Entrepreneur Gordon Young announced last year that he was going to set up a Business Party for Scotland but to date, there is no further news of this, casting increasing doubt over the proposed February launch date for the Business Party. What the New Party lacks at the moment is a recognisable public face.

Its public face is the lobbying company Foresight Communications, whose director is the defeated Tory MP Patrick Nicholls. He had to resign as transport minister after being caught drink-driving and as vice-chairman of the party after making chauvinist remarks about the French and Germans.

The only official spokesman is Jenny Unglass, once Mr Duncan Smith’s chief of staff.

A Tory spokesman insisted the Conservatives were not too worried over the arrival of the New Party for Britain.

He said: "We have nothing to fear from any other party, we are just concentrating on fighting the election."

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