MPs back Redwood's return

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Chief Political Correspondent

John Major is being urged to bring John Redwood back into his Cabinet by senior Conservative right-wing MPs as part of a Cabinet shake-up to sharpen the party's campaign for the general election.

The pressure for Mr Redwood - who challenged Mr Major for the leadership - to be given a Cabinet post is coming from some of the officers of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, which advises Mr Major on backbench opinion.

David Maclean, a right-wing Home Office minister, and David Curry, a hard-hitting left-of-centre local government minister, are also being urged on Mr Major for promotion to the Cabinet.

Douglas Hogg is fighting for his career as Minister of Agriculture after criticism of his handling of the European Union negotiations on beef. Mr Major has protected him from backbench sniping, but Mr Maclean is seen as the best replacement if Mr Hogg is sacrificed.

Mr Maclean was offered the agriculture post in the last reshuffle, but turned it down to stay at the Home Office.

The Prime Minister has privately made it clear he intends to resist the pressure for Mr Redwood to return to the Cabinet. Bringing the former Secretary of Wales back into the Cabinet would be a high-risk policy, resurrecting the criticism that Mr Redwood made of Mr Major during the leadership contest.

The MPs believe that Mr Redwood would be able to give the Cabinet a more right-wing appeal, particularly if he was given the post at the Treasury in charge of reducing public expenditure currently held by William Waldegrave, who survived the Scott inquiry report.

Since going on to the backbenches, Mr Redwood had built up a following outside Westminster and shown himself capable of out-playing right-wing competitors, such as Michael Portillo, while remaining fundamentally loyal to the party.