Election '97 : Heseltine reaches praise overload

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Michael Heseltine yesterday capped a week in which he heaped public praise on the Prime Minister.

The Deputy Prime Minister has taken to interjecting at daily press conferences, referring to Mr Major as "this guy" and praising his economic prowess at home and his negotiating skills abroad.

But he was so effusive yesterday that when he returned to the fray, Mr Major put a restraining hand on his arm and asked: "What did you have for breakfast?"

Mr Heseltine said that what was not understood by the media was that Mr Major was not someone who had set himself apart from other European leaders, but was rather someone who was admired and respected. "He is the man who has actually got his economy the envy of the European Union," Mr heseltine said.

"This guy," he said, gesturing, "has presided over it in a way that ought to be a matter of huge public acclaim, as opposed to a daily feeding fever by the media trying to find trivia"

While the Prime Minister was delighted, Labour sources had other views about Mr Heseltine's motives.

One said he was not only ensuring that if the Tories went down to defeat, his loyalty and dedication could in no way be criticised, but he was also lining the leader up for the "job of scapegoat".