Click to follow
The Independent Online

Overnight two junior ministers, John Horam and James Paice, made statements against a European currency which breached the Cabinet's 'negotiate and decide' policy.

Both released penitent statements saying they supported the Cabinet policy, but they had clearly had a dressing down from the Prime Minister. Mr Major told journalists the men had been 'extremely unwise', but made it clear he would not sack them. He also announced that unemployment and the borrowing requirement had fallen, but the good news was largely ignored.

Earlier, Labour had launched its policy on environmental protection along with a 'five-point plan for a skills revolution'. The party's environmental protection spokesman, Michael Meacher, made a rare appearance at its morning press conference to promise a task force to improve the environment, increase awareness of it and tackle youth unemployment. The response, again, was a barrage of questions on Europe.

The Liberal Democrats' press conference encountered similar problems attempting to highlight plans for a levy to stop water leakage. Later, Paddy Ashdown hosted a phone-out session to voters with John Cleese.


John Major made an impassioned plea, apparently to Euro-sceptics in his own party, on behalf of official Tory policy. He had been 'scarred' by Britain's departure from the Exchange Rate Mechanism and would be cautious before taking the bigger step into a single currency, he argued.

To take a firm line now on the issue would be 'splendidly decisive. So splendidly decisive you would send a British Prime Minister naked into that conference chamber with nothing to negotiate,' he said.

Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, said the Prime Minister's statement 'sounded like a rehearsal for his resignation speech. Everything he said seemed not to be directed at the immediate issues but at defining his place in history. But, the more he went on, the more he seemed like a man who has lost control of events.'

Meanwhile Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, was defending the validity of the latest unemployment figures, saying 'more and more people are getting jobs and enjoying rising living standards. New Labour's policies, like the national minimum wage, would, as John Prescott rightly tells us, put millions of these jobs at risk.'


Martin Bell's nomination forms were accepted yesterday, after overcoming a challenge from Neil Hamilton, who questioned Mr Bell's right to stand under the 'independent' banner. Apart from Mr Hamilton, Mr Bell will face eight other contenders in his Tatton constituency. They include the formidable Miss Moneypenny the Transformer (of the Miss Moneypenny's Glamorous One Party).

Yesterday was an appalling day for John Major, who had to re-think his campaign strategy following the outbreak of feuding within the Government over Europe. Mr Major used the morning press conference to make an impassioned plea to Euro-sceptics to toe the party line. He then decided hastily to re-shoot last night's election broadcast to focus on Europe, rather than on optimistic economic news.


Michael Heseltine said that the row over Europe was "absolutely unimportant in the context of the formation of the next government and the leadership the Prime Minister will give us over the next five years". He blamed the press for hijacking the campaign by "talking about these things which the general public are quite content to see on the sidelines". "Do you know what the essence of this is? It is the genius of John Major," he said.


The man whose wife and two step-daughters were seduced by Alan Clark has arrived in the Kensington and Chelsea constituency to campaign against him. When Clark admitted the affairs in his Diaries in 1993, James Harkess said the former minister should be horsewhipped. Today he insisted that his decision to come over from South Africa and campaign for Labour was "nothing to do with any vendetta ... I have forgiven Alan Clark".


Sinn Fein's senior spokesman Mitchel McLaughlin insisted that a vote for his party was not a vote for the IRA. He said that he knew nothing of speculation that the IRA might call a ceasefire before the election. "If it happens, it happens," he said. "These are matters for the IRA - and outside the control of Sinn Fein."

Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party announced that they were launching a fresh attack on Labour, unleashing a Scottie and two Westie terriers to take on Labour's bulldog. "With our wee Scottie dogs we are biting back," they declared.


Baroness Thatcher continued to polish her legacy, visiting the now prosperous Teesdale Park in Cleveland. Ten years ago The Independent photographed her striding across the derelict site, before vowing it would be regenerated. Yesterday she unveiled a plaque bearing words spoken on her previous visit.