Major plays the loyalty cards

Euro-sceptics out in the cold as PM promotes trusted lieutenants
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The Independent Online
Shuffling the final cards in his pack before the general election, John Major yesterday rewarded loyalty by promoting some of his most trusted middle-ranking ministers and leaving the Euro-sceptics out in the cold.

The Prime Minister had been under pressure from the Thatcherite right wing to promote some of the leading Tory opponents of a single currency and thereby signal the shift in Government's policy in the run-up to polling day.

But after consulting the pro-European Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, Mr Major responded to the resignation of David Heathcoat-Amory from the Treasury by slamming the door firmly on the Euro-sceptics, some of whom are accused of plotting against him.

Mr Heathcoat-Amory, the former Paymaster General, who resigned over the issue of the single currency, yesterday began his campaign against it.

Mr Major, however, had designed this last reshuffle to show that he was not bowing to pressure to change policy on Europe, and that it would be "business as usual" until the election which - he told the Commons at Prime minister's Questions - he wants to postpone until the spring of 1997.

The plum prize in the reshuffle - Mr Heathcoat-Amory's title as Paymaster General with an pounds 8,000 pay rise to the ministerial salary of pounds 74,125 - was given to David Willetts, a trusted junior minister and one of the party's more intellectual politicians, as reward for loyalty and consolation for not being given higher office.

In a move to give Kenneth Clarke a free hand at the Treasury, Mr Major promoted Phillip Oppenheim to become Treasury Secretary. Although he is a hard-hitting right-winger, he was Mr Clarke's Parliamentary private secretary (PPS) for six years.

Mr Major made no Cabinet changes, to avoid turbulence at the top, disappointing a number of those knocking on the door. They included David Davis, a minister who threatened to resign and was kept in his place at the Foreign Office in charge of EU negotiations.

The Prime Minister rewarded several trusted whips with promotion, including Greg Knight, the deputy chief whip, who was moved to the Department of Trade and Industry, to replace Tim Eggar, the energy minister, who stepped down. Liam Fox, the Treasury whip, was promoted to the Foreign Office. Andrew Mackay, an ultra-loyal whip, was promoted to become deputy chief whip, and Mr Major appointed the first woman to the whips' office - Jacqui Lait, MP for Hastings.

Mr Major held more than an hour of private talks at Downing Street with Mr Clarke (who himself contemplated resigning from the Government earlier in the year) before he announced the reshuffle. It is understood that they have reached a pact that there will be no further shift in policy towards the Euro-sceptics. "Heathcoat-Amory's resignation has made us dig in deeper behind the agreed policy. It can't be changed now," said a senior ministerial source.

Brian Mawhinney, the party chairman, went on television to announce that the policy on a single currency, set out in a White Paper with a promise of a referendum, would not change. The aim is to end speculation - some of it caused by jitters at Tory Central Office - that the Tories could be forced into a more Euro-sceptic position by a Labour move to rule out British membership of a single currency in the next parliament.

But the reshuffle gave Mr Major a chance to reassert his authority. He put the left-of-centre John Bowis into the high-profile post of minister of transport for London to replace Steve Norris.

But beyond rebuking dissent and rewarding loyalty, the reshuffle has not produced any wild cards or political aces. John Prescott, the Labour deputy leader, said: "If this is the team that will take the Tories into the next election, no wonder they are looking gloomy."

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