In an interview published in today's edition of New Statesman and Society, Lord McAlpine says of John Major that he has "nothing against the chap personally. He's never done me any harm, except stuff up the Conservative Party".
Asked whether he was advocating a spell in opposition, he says: "I am. I think it's healthy. It's going into the wilderness, it's taking a sabbatical."
The peer, who as Alistair McAlpine was one of the Conservative Party's most successful fund-raisers, is still close to Baroness Thatcher and spent Christmas with her in Spain.
He claims that his view is privately supported by Conservative MPs: "They can see it coming. The sooner you start the next cycle, the better," he said.
He complains: "I don't think you could put a razor blade between Tony Blair [the Labour leader] and John Major. There's never been a time when the politicians have so close to each other, yet they're light years away from the electorate."
But he has given up any hope of the right recapturing the party in government, and says he is "very strongly against getting rid of a party leader while in office".
In opposition, the party would be able to renew its ideological cutting edge, he says: "I'm a clean-slate man myself. I want a new party with new people . . . The party needs a good scrub with a hard brush."
He expresses admiration for Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Employment, who Lady Thatcher herself said in 1993 would be a "very strong runner" as a future Tory leader, but does not endorse him.
McAlpine was treasurer of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990, and was also a deputy chairman of the party during the then Mrs Thatcher's first government. He is one of Lady Thatcher's most ardent and embittered supporters.
His low opinion of the current Cabinet has been ill-concealed in his occasional column in the Mail on Sunday. He has called for Douglas Hurd to resign as Foreign Secretary and described Jeremy Hanley, the Conservative Party Chairman, as a "pantaloon", and "totally useless". But neither he nor any other substantial Tory figure has previously called for the Major administration to be swept aside and replaced in opposition.
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