Heseltine the power behind PM, poll says

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The public regards Michael Heseltine as the power behind the Prime Minister as a result of the Cabinet reshuffle, a poll says today.

The Gallup poll shows that 40 per cent think John Major is the most powerful person in the Cabinet, but 39 per cent believe the power resides with the Deputy Prime Minister.

The results will fuel the anger of right-wing Tory MPs who are still furious at the promotion of Mr Heseltine to the heart of the Major government in the Cabinet office, dubbed 10A Downing Street.

Mr Heseltine has his own smart-card pass to the Downing Street complex and offices reputed to be size of a tennis court. Whitehall insiders say Mr Heseltine is making his presence felt by calling in officials to coordinate announcements. "The Monday morning meeting with the Chief Whip used to be like an inquisition for ministers. They hated it. Now it is much more pro-active, hands-on," said one Whitehall source.

The Independent has learned that late last week Mr Heseltine took over control of the announcement of the efficiency savings across three departments - the Home Office, health and education - from the Prime Minister. He chaired the announcements himself.

His rise may explain the failure of Mr Major to make an impact since the leadership election. The poll in the Daily Telegraph shows Mr Major's decisive victory has failed to dent Labour's lead, putting Labour 35 points ahead of the Tories. Labour is on 57.5 per cent, the Tories 22.5 per cent, the Liberal Democrats 14.5 per cent and others 5.5 per cent.

The Conservative Party chairman, Brian Mawhinney, is working closely with Mr Heseltine on the Tory fightback during the summer.

They are holding daily strategy meetings and planning to make the annual party conference in October a launch pad for new policies.

Labour released an internal report showing that the boundary changes have caused dozens of seats to become marginals. Labour claimed that as a victory for their lobbying of the boundary commission.

The party believes Mr Blair could be given a working Commons majority with a swing of between four and five per cent, three per cent less than previously thought, if the analysis of boundary changes is correct.