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
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick