Major 'says three in Cabinet are bastards'
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'.
- 1 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 4 Tennis fan suing Australian Open organisers for 'failing to shade spectators' during Murray match
- 5 This crazy skiing video will leave you feeling queasy
Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
Mother of newborn Baby No 59 trapped in sewer pipe told Chinese police she 'heard crying' when she raised alarm
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
AirAsia QZ8501: Black box reveals warning alarms 'screamed' before crash, as more bodies recovered from near fuselage of jet
Rob Lowe hits out at White House decision not to meet Israeli leader
British Muslim leaders outraged after Eric Pickles says followers of Islam should 'prove their identity'
UK terror fears: My jihadist son returned from Syria mentally scarred – now he is being ignored
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
Billy Crystal: 'Stop shoving gay sex scenes in my face'
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
David Cameron says anyone criticising Eric Pickles' letter to Muslims 'really has a problem'
£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...
£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...