Rebels woo Tory left to oust Major

REBEL Conservative Eurosceptics are seeking support from Tory left-wingers to build cross-party support for a leadership challenge to John Major this week. Talks are taking place this weekend aimed at drawing into play Norman Lamont, the disgruntled ex-chancellor, as a stalking horse candidate.

Tory right-wingers have told their parliamentary colleagues that there are too few of them to force a contest without wider backing from the disgruntled left.

The move presents a dilemma for supporters of Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, who could stand to gain if Mr Major was toppled following a strong vote for a stalking horse. Right-wingers have hinted that they would prefer Mr Heseltine as Prime Minister to the present malaise.

One right-winger said the left had to ''decide whether or not they want Mr Heseltine to be prime minister''. Soundings on the left will also take place over the weekend.

However, Heseltine supporters are said to be cautious - particularly since any public indication that they are involved in a plot to destabilise the Prime Minister would undermine their candidate's prospects. Left-wingers are also unhappy with the choice as stalking horse of Norman Lamont, who has emerged as hostile to Europe and hardline on Northern Ireland. The deadline for the 34 MPs needed to mount a challenge expires on Wednesday.

A loyal minister argued: ''All this talk of leadership is absolute nonsense. The rebels know perfectly well that the only alternative leaders are Heseltine or Clarke, both of whom are substantially more Euro-friendly than the PM.''

Meanwhile the Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, is defying pleas from at least two Cabinet ministers, and pressure from John Major, to scrap plans for doubling the rate of VAT on domestic fuel in Tuesday's Budget. Both Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland and Jeremy Hanley, party chairman, have lobbied to scrap the second tranche of the two-stage 17.5 per cent VAT levy.

It has also emerged that Mr Major canvassed the possibility of stopping the 9.5 per cent rise due in April 1995, during Budget discussions. Ministers are worried that the second tax rise will destroy Tory hopes in next spring's local elections - particularly in Scotland.

Labour has used a procedural device to try to expose the VAT rise to a Commons vote a week on Tuesday. Some fear that would automatically trigger a second confidence vote within a week. A government's Finance Bill is by constitutional convention a measure of confidence.

However the Chancellor and his allies argue that to abandon their legislative commitment would show weak leadership and blow a hole in Budget arithmetic.

With government business managers now more anxious about the VAT revolt than the rebellion over Europe, some ministers are pressing for an enhanced compensation package for pensioners and the poor. They believe concessions will be made if the parliamentary arithmetic looks unfavourable.

Even the most hardened Eurosceptics accept that, having made tomorrow night's vote an issue of confidence, the Government will get its way over higher EU contributions. Sir George Gardiner said: ''The Cabinet will win its vote on Monday but in the process has made itself the laughing stock of the British people.''

Dither and drift page 2

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Buddy DeFranco
people
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
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

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month