Loal parties split on 'vitriolic' attack

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The Independent Online
NORMAN LAMONT'S attack on John Major was 'despicable' but it had succeeded in wounding the Prime Minister, Tory activists in the constituencies said last night, write Steve Boggan and John Arlidge.

Early indications suggested that the party faithful were split over support for Mr Major, but they saw no parallel with Lord Howe's savaging of Margaret Thatcher. Supporters of the Prime Minister took the opportunity to rally to his side, whereas the doubters acknowledged much in Mr Lamont's criticisms.

In Basildon, Essex, a bellwether of Tory electoral fortunes, Sandra Hyland, chairwoman of the local party, said that she agreed with Mr Lamont's accusations of 'short termism' and predicted that Mr Major would face a leadership challenge before the next election.

'Mr Lamont is a man scorned at the moment and you would expect his attack to be vitriolic but there was an essence of truth in much of what he said. We do rather seem to be changing policies and introducing things without thinking them through properly.'

Ron Thurlow, chairman of Finchley, Baroness Thather's former constituency, described Mr Lamont's speech as 'crisp and honest'. He said he agreed 'absolutely' with the former Chancellor's observation that the Government appeared to be in office but not in power. 'It signalled to Mr Major that he has one year to get his act together,' he said.

But in Mr Major's constituency, Huntingdon, Roger Juggins, the former Conservative association president, said: 'Mr Lamont said he was eight years at the Treasury but did not agree with what happened . . . that sounds to me as if he wants to clear his name before taking a big job in the City.'

Ben Franklin, deputy chairman of Peterborough Conservative Association, said: 'It was a despicable thing to do. Norman Lamont failed miserably to put across many of his policies while he was in office. Now he's behaving like a spoilt schoolboy who has not got his own way.'

In Chester, Jill Everett, chairwoman of the Conservative association, said: 'I thought Norman Lamont was a bigger man than that. But it will turn out to be a storm in a tea cup, a one-day wonder. Of course, we'd like things to be better but it is nothing to do with the PM.'

Graham Ross-Clyne, secretary for the Loughborough constituency, doubted the attack on Mr Major would result in a leadership challenge. 'It is a shame that some ministers make speeches like this when they are demoted,' he said. 'They can be unsettling but, as we saw with Geoffrey Howe's attack on Margaret Thatcher, they don't necessarily have an adverse effect at the polls.'

Graham Betts, chairman of North Thanet Conservatives, said he believed Mr Major was not mortally wounded but added he was not sure how well the Prime Minister would fare if a leadership contest were held in the autumn.

'I would like to see Mr Major survive, but he doesn't seem to have much backbench support at the moment,' he said. 'One thing about Mr Lamont's speech struck me as being strange. He said that the Government was too quick to listen to the criticism of others and change its policies accordingly; but a lot of people at grass roots level feel we are not being listened to.'

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