Major 'says three in Cabinet are bastards'

JOHN MAJOR's leadership was plunged into a new crisis last night after claims that he described three Eurosceptic Cabinet colleagues as 'bastards' in comments accidentally recorded after a television interview.

The remarks, which were not broadcast but have gained circulation among broadcast journalists, are likely to enrage the right of the Conservative Party when Mr Major had promised a truce with Maastricht rebels.

The incident follows an interview with ITN's political editor, Michael Brunson, last Friday after the Prime Minister had won his confidence vote over handling of the Maastricht Treaty in the Commons. Private discussion seems to have been picked up on a 'live feed' - which made Mr Major's conversation available to the BBC and Sky as well as ITN - and taped by technicians.

According to today's Observer Mr Major told Mr Brunson: 'The real problem is one of a tiny majority. Don't overlook that. I could have all these clever, decisive things which people wanted me to do - but I would have split the Conservative party into smithereens. And you would have said I had acted like a ham-fisted leader.'

Mr Brunson asked the Prime Minister why he did not sack three rebel Cabinet ministers, to which the Mr Major replied: 'Just think it through from my perspective. You are the Prime Minister, with a majority of 18, a party that is still harking back to a golden age that never was (the Thatcher era), and is now invented. You have three right-wing members of the Cabinet who actually resign. What happens in the Parliamentary party?'

When Mr Brunson argued that the Prime Minister had the power to bring in others, Mr Major said: 'I could bring in other people. But where do you think most of this poison is coming from? From the dispossessed and the never-possessed. You can think of ex-ministers who are going around causing all sorts of trouble.

'We don't want another three bastards out there. What's Lyndon Johnson's maxim?' (The maxim is: 'It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in.')

At no point in the tape did the Prime Minister name the three colleagues singled out for attack. Four Cabinet ministers are regarded as sceptics on Europe: Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treaasury, John Redwood, Secretary of State for Wales, and Michael Howard, the Home Secretary.

But revelations of Mr Major's private opinions, unless proved false, will damage his standing on the right of the party - and undermine his claims to be a sceptic on Europe himself. They also underline the deep divisions which have been created within the Conservatives by the 18-month row over ratification of the Maastricht Treaty.

Downing Street said last night that it 'did not know if this conversation took place and if it did it would have been a private matter'.

Mr Brunson was not available for comment but an ITN spokesperson said: 'Michael Brunson has private conversations with senior politicians all the time and he would never comment on them'.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power