Major likens Blair to Uriah Heep

Tony Blair has been likened to the hand-wringing and ever-so-humble Uriah Heep, the Dickensian character, by John Major. Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, watches as the former prime minister returns to the fray.

One of the Prime Minister's key qualities, his ability to show and share his feelings, was condemned out of hand by his predecessor, Mr Major, in an interview with The Spectator yesterday.

Arguing that it would have been ludicrous to have apologised for taking sterling into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, as Chancellor, in 1990, Mr Major said: "The idea of politicians apologising is silly. Where does it end?

"Look at Blair, apologising to the Irish - next, he'll probably apologise to the Italians. Then they wanted the Queen to apologise to all our former colonies. Should we have a weekly apology spot on which Blair apologises to John Humphrys for not having anything to apologise about that week? Is Uriah Heep running the country?

"As for Blair saying he was `hurt' after the Formula One row, he never seemed hurt about questioning the integrity of others. He shouldn't have said it anyway. Politicians should never bare their emotions in public."

The interview coincided with an interview with Mr Blair in yesterday's Sun - "his first Christmas interview as Premier" - in which he said that the death of Princess Diana was the most terrible moment of his months in office. "Instinct sustained me through that difficult period," he said.

Mr Major also accused Labour of being too scared to make good long-term decisions. "This is where they will come unstuck," he said. "Labour lied to the middle classes. They made them all these promises of help and now, every day, they kick them in the pants. Brown's wholly unnecessary Budget was a disgraceful raid on pension funds. A higher rate of council tax and the abolition of Tessas is stupid and incredibly vindictive. They are completely out of touch with reality.

"I have calculated that Labour is costing each middle-class family pounds 700 a month. I suppose they think they are being macho. I suppose that's why they refuse to bow to parliamentary opinion ..."

As for his own party, Mr Major agreed that there were sections of it that seemed to believe that its problems were mainly presentational. "They should be setting out clear policies," he said, "on benefit reform particularly. Labour, for instance, pretends to be pro-women but actually their policies are sexist. The Government wants to pay family credit through the wage packet, which means it will too often go entirely to men.

"These things are more important than presentation. The voters will become sick of slickness. It would be a terrible thing for the Tories to go in for slick trickery."

He said that his long-term ambition was to see the party back in office as soon as possible, and, asked whether that meant that he would not behave as Baroness Thatcher or Sir Edward Heath had done, Mr Major said: "I'm not commenting on Mrs Thatcher."

Asked whether he believed people should publicly criticise their successors, he replied: "No. I don't want to be seen as a twisted, bitter person who could never get used to losing office."