Major in last-ditch appeal to Tory right

Defeat would hurl party 'into abyss'

DONALD MACINTYRE

and COLIN BROWN

John Major last night warned the Tory party that his own removal would propel it into an electoral "abyss" as he set about reassuring Eurosceptic MPs on the eve of a crucial meeting with the right-wing 92 Group tonight.

Mr Major began an urgent personal canvass of floating voters to force his level of support in tomorrow's vote above the danger level after publicly promising that there would be no "recriminations" against his right-of- centre opponents.

While the Prime Minister's ministerial supporters continued to insist that Mr Major would win decisively under the rules, there were signs of anxiety over whether the Mr Major had yet secured enough support to ensure that the party was governable under his leadership.

In a stark appeal to the party to unite behind him, Mr Major said it would be "madness" to allow "deepening disunity" to allow the "socialists to walk away with the prize". In an article for today's Daily Telegraph, he says the party has a choice between jumping "into the abyss" or "finishing this business" by delivering a decisive vote for him tomorrow.

In a clear setback for the Prime Minister, the Telegraph says in an editorial "It is time for Mr Major to go" and give another leader the chance to "save the Tories".

The Major campaign yesterday sought to bolster his support with a clear signal to the Tory right that they had no cause to oppose the Prime Minister. The moves came after one of his leading Cabinet allies said that the party needed him to win "very substantially".

Mr Major was personally telephoning a series of uncommitted MPs from Downing Street as his campaigners went all out to convince right-wing MPs that he would not allow the centre-left of the party to exploit a low vote for his challenger John Redwood by shifting the party to a more overtly pro-European stance.

"I am not in the business of recriminations. I am not a factional politician. I want a United Kingdom, a united party. And I believe in the politics of persuasion," he told Sir David Frost on BBC Television.

The Prime Minister did not budge from his line last week that he would not rule out a single currency. But he sought to reassure the right by again holding out the prospect that Britain could lead those countries which decided to stay out of European Monetary Union in 1999.

Mr Major appeared last night to be treading a delicate path between reassurance of the right and the need not to alienate centre-left MPs who might abstain in order to boost the prospects of a second ballot which might allow Michael Heseltine to enter the contest. Mr Major brushed aside the claim in a leaflet produced by the Redwood campaign that the Tories had "no chance" without a change, adding: "The Conservative Party wins elections from the centre-right. That is where I stand."

Mr Major's newspaper article today is clearly directed at all strands of the party. Ian Lang, the Secretary of State for Scotland, said on BBC Television's On the Record: "I sense that the coming together of the party is to recognise that the Prime Minister is going to win on Tuesday and that it is in all our interests that he should win very substantially." But while Mr Lang insisted Mr Major would "win big", ministers in private appeared to be preparing for a relatively narrow margin of victory by drawing attention to the precedent of the 60 per cent vote secured by Tony Blair in the Labour leadership contest.

Although the official line of the Major campaign continues to be that the Prime Minister can expect to stay in office however narrowly he wins, an exact parallel with the Blair result would give him just under 200 with Mr Redwood a relatively impressive 132 votes - a showing some MPs believe would be the very minimum he would require to resist pressure to step down.

A poll in the Sunday Express predicted that Mr Major would secure 224 votes to 60 for Mr Redwood and 45 abstentions.

A number of right-of-centre MPs will wait until tonight's 92 Group meeting, which will also be addressed by Mr Redwood, before deciding how to vote.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory