In another catalogue of errors to hit John Major, senior ministers did not know that the MP for Bolton North East had renewed his threat to resign the party whip - thus threatening to reduce the Tory Commons majority down to two - and had gone to the extraordinary length of commissioning his own opinion poll to support his defiance.
Mr Thurnham is standing down from his seat, where he has a majority of only 185 over Labour, and is piqued at not being shortlisted for the safer constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale (Conservative majority 16,436), where he lives.
The resignation threat, delivered in a statement almost calculated to damage the Govern- ment, has dismayed local Tories.
Mr Thurnham recently met his constituency association chairman, Mr Norman Critchley, for lunch at a secret location to thrash out his future Mr Critchley said: "I was disappointed. I just can't explain why he has done this." The statement has not been withdrawn, but Mr Thurnham "did not indicate" any plans to resign the whip.
The Bolton MP is demanding an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the "very clear message" that his constituents gave in a MORI poll, when 42 per cent said he would be right to resign from the Conservative Parliamentary Party because of "falling values and standards of public service."
He declined to add to this, but others were not so reticent. Trevor Farrer, chairman of the Conservative Association in Westmorland and Lonsdale, said the 57-year-old MP was too old to be considered, and was acting "like a woman scorned."
"Ever since he was not selected, he has been saying that people in the constituency are pressing him to stand as an independent. Conservatives are now saying we got the right chap, because Mr Thurnham has shown just how unbalanced he is. We rather regarded him as carpet-bagging."
In Astley Bridge Conservative Club yesterday, there was mystification about the MORI poll, but not about their MP. "I think it's sour grapes over him not getting the seat," said club chairman Geoff Sofield.
"We are not surprised. He has been saying that he was displeased with the way the Government was acting. I would agree with him in that respect. The members are not happy with the party at the moment. Definitely not."
Conservative Party chairman Dr Brian Mawhinney urged Mr Thurnham not to break ranks. "He has had discussions with ministers and colleagues over the weeks and I look forward to these continuing," he said. "I hope he will see out this parliament the way he saw it in, as a Conservative MP."
Mr Thurnham has been MP for Bolton North East for 13years. Educated at Oundle and Peterhouse, Cambridge, he took a diploma in advanced engineering at Cranfield Institute of Technology and specialised in cooling systems. He has not held ministerial office, but has been parliamentary private secretary to middle-ranking ministers.
Westmorland and Lonsdale Tories chose Tim Collins, 29, the former "spin doctor" for John Major and media adviser at Conservative Central Office.
Bolton North East Conservatives will unveil their candidate for the general election later this week.Reuse content