Hague told `win or you're out'

THE THREAT to William Hague as Tory leader grew last night as his party's whips launched a desperate attempt to head off moves by his MPs to sack him. Mr Hague has lost the support of leading figures on the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, whose executive committee has a crucial role in deciding his fate.

After two weeks of turmoil over the leadership's rejection of a Thatcherite, free-market approach to public services, Tory grandees warned they would move against Mr Hague unless the party gained more than 1,000 seats in next Thursday's local elections.

The desperation in Tory ranks was shown when a member of the executive told The Independent Mr Hague could be deposed though there was no obvious successor in the wings.

"He is not going to make it and he has got to go," the senior Tory said. "We will sort out who replaces him later. It is like Edward Heath in 1975; no one expected Margaret Thatcher to come through."

There is a haemorrhage of support for Mr Hague at Westminster despite his attempt to quell the rebellion when he made an unscheduled address to his MPs on Wednesday.

The 10 Opposition whips began telephoning Tory MPs in an attempt to prevent them deserting him. One Tory insider said Mr Hague's position was worse than John Major's in 1995, when he resigned the party leadership and beat off a challenge from John Redwood. "Major had a hard core of loyalist MPs; William does not. He doesn't have any credit in the bank. A lot of MPs are neutral."

Party rules state Mr Hague would have to lose a vote of confidence among his 162 MPs before a leadership contest was triggered. But Mr Hague's allies admit privately that his survival is threatened.

Tory officials predicted the party will gain 500 seats, in line with its dismal opinion poll ratings, in next Thursday's council elections.

But many Tory MPs believe the party will have to gain between 1,000 and 1,200 seats to show it is "back in the race". If the party fails to make such gains, a repeat of the results in a general election would unseat Tory MPs.

"This is about self-preservation," one Tory frontbencher said last night. "If the MPs think we will do even worse than in the 1997 election, they will press the panic button." There was no sign of the Tory turmoil abating yesterday, despite Mr Hague's attempts to control the controversy provoked by Peter Lilley, his deputy, who enraged Tory MPs last week by saying the free market had only a limited role to play in health, education and welfare.

There was growing speculation that Mr Lilley would lose the deputy leadership - and his responsibility for party policy-making - when Mr Hague reshuffles his Shadow Cabinet after the European Parliament elections in June.

A prominent Tory grassroots activist, Eric Chalker, deputy chairman of the Charter Movement, which campaigns for greater democracy within the party, said ordinary party members "struggled" to support Mr Hague and there should be a leadership contest before the general election. He said: "It will be very difficult to summon up the belief that William Hague is ever going to be able to lead us to victory."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'