Howard and Redwood `not for chop'

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WILLIAM HAGUE made clear yesterday that he will keep John Redwood and Michael Howard in his Shadow Cabinet, in spite of rumours circulating in Westminster that the Tory leader is planning a "night of the long knives".

The Tory high command is searching for the source of the backstabbing and last night tried to pass off the blame on unnamed lowly backbenchers "angling for promotion".

But there were suspicions that the source of the discontent was a highly placed member of Mr Hague's team, making the rumours more embarrassing.

Mr Hague was being urged to "purge the old guard" who were linked too closely to the Tory image of defeat at the last election, including Mr Howard, the former Foreign Secretary, Sir Norman Fowler, chairman of the Tory party from 1992 to 1994, and Gillian Shephard, the environment spokeswoman.

Mr Redwood, the trade and industry spokesman, was also said to be among the likely victims because - although he had been John Major's most severe Tory critic - he was still associated with the Tory government and had to be sacrificed in a break with the past.

The advice to make a clean sweep of the old faces appears to have backfired, and led the Tory leadership to issue a strong message of support in Mr Redwood and Mr Howard, which leaves them almost unsackable in any reshuffle.

"There is no pressure from senior people around Mr Hague for changes of this sort," said a senior Tory source.

Sacking the big names in his Shadow Cabinet would look like panic, the charge levelled against Harold Macmillan after sacking cabinet ministers in his "night of the long knives". And there are few household names on the Tory back bench.

Meanwhile Liam Fox, the sort of young, aggressive shadow minister that some want to see, yesterday launched a Tory campaign against the Government's constitutional changes dubbed the "Battle for Britain". The roadshow is an example of the campaigning zeal that the critics of the Shadow Cabinet want to see more often.