Euro-loons, stalking horses and the men with the dagger

A Tory minister reports on the skulduggery and intrigue of a frenzied week in Westminster
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The Independent Online
God how I hate this awful business. What on earth did Major think he was going to achieve? He clearly won't silence the Euro-loons. Show them a television studio and they instantly orgasm. Jerry Hayes tells me Teresa actually physically assaulted him live on radio. "How dare you, Jerry", trilled the Pitsea Passionaria. "You're always hogging the microphone."

It's been chaos on College Green as at least a dozen film crews jostle to interview each candidate's representatives on earth. David Evans looms large. We should have known he would be the fly in the ointment when Marcus Fox first confidently announced that the whole 22 executive were behind Major. Evans and Redwood clearly admire each other, perhaps because each possesses the qualities the other totally lacks. And Dave is another one who loves the cameras. Why is it so many rational MPs act such buffoons the minute they sense the roar of the greasepaint?

A call from David Davis soliciting support for Major. Davis is interesting. A useless speaker, crucified at the despatch box, but never one to underestimate his own ability and desperate to replace Richard Ryder as Chief Whip. He clearly knows the black arts. An ex-whip, he sports a broken nose and a sinister personal interview style. I tell him what he wants to hear. I doubt he's totally convinced.

I don't know why they spend so much time counting heads. When your future depends on not offending the winner, you are hardly likely to tell him to his face that he's not your choice. I deeply resent this idea that Tory MPs are a morally degenerate species. In the present climate it's too easy a crack. The truth is the election rules force colleagues to turn against each other, calculating friend and foe when the real enemy is Blair.

Personally, I can't take Redwood totally seriously. Until I see him in the company of at least one colleague I can really respect he remains a stalking horse.

Tea room chatter still reckons Portillo will take the right if there's a second ballot despite his having been so comprehensively wrongfooted. No-one from the Redwood camp has actually canvassed me yet. We all know the real game is not how many Redwood actually gets, but how well Major beats him. Anything under 200 is surely not enough whatever the rules say. There were a few wry smiles when it emerged that nice honest Andrew Bowden had been sacked from the Major campaign for saying so.

The Heseltine camp have been conspicuous by their silence. He has learnt from the 1990 experience when he stalked the Members' lobby seizing on innocent backbenchers like a demented ancient mariner. He knows the slightest hint of disloyalty this time will destroy him with the rank and file - many of whom have still not forgiven him for wielding the dagger at Margaret. But we all know the real contest is probably between the two men who are not even standing in this round.

Major has done well since coming back from Cannes. One senses a burden lifted. He looks and sounds more relaxed and confident. A brilliant Question Time on Thursday, posing yet again that nagging doubt. Maybe he is the least worst option after all.

Norman Tebbit, a former Tory party chairman, last night urged MPs to vote for John Redwood. Rounding on John Major's European policies, Mr Tebbit says in today's Sun newspaper: "John Major has made it plain there will be no change whatsoever in his policy... I would vote for John Redwood."