I'm a coalition government on my own, declares Major

Isolated Major voices his frustration
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PATRICIA WYNN DAVIES London and MICHAEL SHERIDAN Halifax, Nova Scotia A beleaguered John Major appeared to increase doubts over his leadership of the Conservative Party and the country by declaring at the Group of Seven summit that he was "a coalition government on my own".

Mr Major had yesterday fought back over attempts to destabilise him amid fresh predictions of an autumn leadership challenge by insisting there was no "magic ingredient" to solve the problems of the Tory party.

But he was further undermined after it emerged that a camera microphone had picked up part of his pre-dinner conversation with other G7 leaders on Thursday. During a conversation with Chancellor Helmut Kohl on coalition government, Mr Major, who had largely managed to stick to the current convention of avoiding the press during overseas engagements, was heard to say: "I am a coalition government on my own."

Mr Major insisted yesterday "the way in which to conduct government is to have steady policies, to stick to those policies ... and to carry those policies through until fruition". But the off-the-cuff remark will add to a mounting picture of isolation. With his future as Prime Minister and party leader looking increasingly fragile as pro- and anti-European factions traded insults, it emerged that Mr Major's lifeline may lie with a

group of leading backbench Euro-sceptics, backed by figures such as Lord Parkinson, the former party chairman, who are laying plans for a "stop Michael Heseltine" campaign. In an increasingly bloody battle between party factions, it was yesterday left to a Major loyalist, Tristan Garel-Jones, the former foreign office minister, to deride potential "stalking horse" challenger John Carlisle as the "stalking horse for aparthei

d" - a reference to past activities - after the Luton North MP suggested that "high noon" for the Prime Minister was probably approaching in days rather than weeks. But the extent of alarm over Mr Major's leadership has already been underlined by Thursday night's decision by the 1922 backbench committee executive to take the rare step of endorsing the compilation of a dossier of suggestions to the Prime Minister to sharpen up policies on home-ownership, law and order an

d tax cuts, and clear up confusion on Europe.