The resignation of James Cran as PPS to Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Northern Ireland Secretary clouded Tory party attempts to present a confident face at its conference in Bournemouth last night.
Suggestions that Mr Cran, 52, had resigned to concentrate on defending his constituency - Beverley, where he has a majority of 16,517 - after boundary changes were put in doubt when it was revealed that the changes will actually make it a safer Tory seat. Mr Cran's resignation, said a source close to the Northern Ireland secretary, came as a blow to the Northern Ireland office where he was highly regarded for his links with back benchers.
While not enjoying the same public profile as other Euro-sceptics - he was not one of the "barmy army" - Mr Cran was widely credited at Westminster with being one of their foremost thinkers. The Government's difficulties over the Maastricht Treaty were attributed to his strategical brilliance.
The Government has acted quickly to fill the gap: Harold Elletson, MP for Blackpool North and the PPS to Michael Ancram, the Northern Ireland minister, will step into Mr Cran's shoes.
This week's conference fringe is dominated by meetings on Europe where Mr Cran was expected to be one of the star performers. Mr Cran is not built like a political assassin. With his comfortable figure, his soft Scottish burr and his retiring nature, he looks and sounds more like a Highland minister of religion, at peace with the world.
But he was certainly not at peace with the pro-Europeans during that fractious period. His record on the Maastricht Treaty debates speaks for itself. He voted against it 30 times and abstained 30 more times.
Although the unofficial whip, or puppet-master, of the Tory rebels, he once confessed: "I am not a natural rebel. I find it quite difficult. I live in hope that behind the scenes when you talk, somebody, somewhere will listen. The longer I have been here, the more I have realised that nobody at all is listening."
"In the Tory party nobody minds a rebel if he has not got any chance of winning."
Quiet, measured and intellectual, he was always seen as the perfect antidote to the more excitable elements on the Euro-sceptic side.Reuse content