Major says 'basics' not a moral crusade . . .: .. but at the last Tory conference ..

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'Conservatives do make value judgements. For us there is a difference between right and wrong. We prize the individual who . . . demonstrates a sense of duty towards family and community.'

Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Speech to Centre for Policy Studies fringe meeting, 7 October

'If a man . . . is not even living with the mother at the birth of the child the very strong likelihood is that his involvement in its upbringing will be negligible.' Michael Howard, Home Secretary, speech to Conservative Political Centre fringe meeting, 5 October

'To me there is no greater betrayal than having a child and then walking away.'

John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, Conference, 7 October

AN UNREPENTANT John Major yesterday pledged to intensify his 'back to basics' campaign as he insisted it had never been presented as a crusade about personal morality.

But as the deposed Tim Yeo renewed his apologies for the stress and embarrassment caused by his extra-marital affair, a new rule requiring speedy resignations in such circumstances appeared to be crystalising.

Sir Marcus Fox, chairman of the influential backbench 1922 Committee of Tory MPs - without whose backing few ministers would survive - insisted resignations should be immediate, while the 'family values' message should be strengthened rather than reversed.

Mr Major's restatement of the 'back to basics' theme came as a further shadow was cast over the long-term political future of Mr Yeo, 48, who on Wednesday resigned as Minister of State for the Environment. A resolution from the Haverhill branch - one of 40 in his Suffolk South constituency Tory association - said it would not back him for reselection.

Haverhill is influenced to a great degree by Aldine Horrigan, its vice-chairman, who has mounted an outspoken campaign against Mr Yeo. Yesterday she said 10 branch officials met on Wednesday night and decided they were not satisfied with Mr Yeo's resignation as a minister. Mrs Horrigan, Mayor of Haverhill, said last night that the resolution was passed unanimously, but refused to discuss the meeting's substance.

However, Brian Tooke, constituency association president, said the Haverhill resolution was 'fairly predictable'. He added: 'When something like this happens, it is bound to cause certain problems within the constituency, but these are early days and we must wait and see what happens. It is too early to say whether it will become a trend.'

Speaking outside Downing Street, the Prime Minister said his campaign was about 'policy issues of concern to people right across the board. That was and is the case. What we are seeking to do is make sure the basics of education are sound . . . that punishments more adequately fit the crimes . . . to get rid of the fiscal deficit. I could stretch that list right the way across the whole area of government.'

He added: 'In essence, what we are seeking to do is to push to one side many of the fashionable theories that have taken root over recent years that we believe are a denial of common sense.' The campaign was also about the wider issues of decency, courtesy, neighbourliness, respect for others - and tolerance and understanding - but not personal morality.

In spite of strong speeches last year by Cabinet colleagues, including John Redwood, Secretary of State for Wales, and Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, on the subject of single mothers, Mr Major said none of his ministers had interpreted 'back to basics' as an attack on single parents.

However, John Smith, the Labour Party leader, said the theme was now in 'hopeless confusion, contradiction and muddle. They sought to shift the blame for the nation's problems from a government in power for 14 years to groups in society like single mothers. But the scapegoating has backfired.

'At the Tory conference, speech after speech proclaimed moral responsibility: now Mr Major is leading the headlong retreat. 'Back to basics' appears to be a jellyfish theory - able to be adapted to the latest Tory contradiction.'

Letters, page 15

Wives betrayed, page 20

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