Senior MP demands a re-run

EVEN if John Major wins comfortably on Tuesday, it may not be over: a senior MP has warned that he will demand a re-run of the election because Conservative Central Office is supporting the Prime Minister and it ought not to be, writes Chris Blackhurst.

Bill Walker, MP for North Tayside, argues that, under the party's constitution, the central party machine specifically exists to support the party leader. As there is no leader following Mr Major's resignation, Central Office should stand aside.

Instead, Jeremy Hanley, the chairman, has used Central Office material to argue for Mr Major in the press and on TV, while in a press release on party finances he says that they are "improving dramatically" under Mr Major's leadership. Area agents have also written to constituencies asking them to support the Prime Minister and organised pro-Major meetings.

Mr Walker, a member of John Redwood's campaign team, claimed that party staff had also been at the challenger's press conferences taking notes and reporting back to Central Office. As soon as MPs have voted on Tuesday, Mr Walker said yesterday, he will write to the organisers of the contest, the executive of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, demanding a re- run.

When he raised the matter with the chairman last week, Mr Hanley replied his behaviour was no different from that of Kenneth Baker, the then chairman during the first round of the last leadership contest that ousted Margaret Thatcher in 1990. But, Mr Walker pointed out, Lady Thatcher was still leader at the time. Once she resigned, before the second ballot, Mr Baker wrote to staff warning them to "say as little as possible about the contest". "Under no circumstances will anyone here disparage or give support to those nominated," he added.

A Central Office spokeswoman said: "As party chairman, Mr Hanley is remaining completely neutral and as an individual he is supporting John Major." She said that she and her colleagues were supporting neither side "although we are supporting John Major as Prime Minister".

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