Redwood moves to woo Tory left

Pretenders jostle for position to succeed Major
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The Independent Online
John Major will face a challenge for the party leadership "within weeks" of polling day if the Tories lose the election from MPs who are already manoeuvring for position after defeat.

The evidence of private campaigning from both wings of the party has been reported to the highest levels at Conservative Party Central Office and risks undermining Mr Major's campaign to win the election.

Supporters of John Redwood, the former challenger for the leadership, are ready as soon as the election is over to start gathering signatures from the required 10 per cent of Tory MPs in order to trigger the contest. Mr Redwood has been meeting Tory MPs privately in a move seen by friends as an attempt to woo the left.

The Independent has learned that pro-European Tory MPs on the left wing of the party are equally determined to force the issue on to the agenda if the Tories lose, in order to stop the right-wing candidates, led by Mr Redwood, from gaining an unassailable lead.

One senior Conservative backbench source said: "The right wing will start agitating as soon as the election is over. They are not going to rest."

By moving quickly, Mr Redwood's supporters could steal a march on other right-wing candidates, including Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, and Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence.

The left are canvassing support to ensure a good showing for Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, in order to avoid the party from splitting. The left feel that he could top the first ballot, and any subsequent winner would be obliged to offer him a senior post in a Conservative shadow cabinet.

The left-wingers are privately discussing election strategy, in which Mr Clarke and Stephen Dorrell, the Health Secretary, run against each other in the first ballot.

If neither secures enough support to win, Michael Heseltine, the deputy Prime Minister, could enter the contest in the second round, sweeping up their votes as the candidate of the left, and possibly winning the leadership by pulling enough votes from the right.

The left have been so infuriated by Mr Major's bowing to the Euro-sceptics that they are prepared to put into their election leaflets a pro-European line in favour of the single currency, in the same way Euro-sceptics are preparing to rule it out in their election addresses.

There have been private meetings to gain the support of the left, and Mr Dorrell, who would be a major challenger for the leadership, will be meeting the Positive European group next week.

Supporters of Mr Redwood are dismissive of the current Cabinet compromise on entering a single currency, and insist that Mr Major's Euro-sceptic rhetoric in a recent New Yorker interview has done nothing to close the option.

Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, who would also throw his hat into the leadership ring, yesterday reinforced the Prime Minister's attack on the Labour Party's readiness to adopt the social chapter by warning that a Labour government would make "six surrenders" in six weeks of office.

They are said to include signing up to qualified majority voting on social, environmental, industrial and regional policy.