Tarzan: `Lord of the Bungle'

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COLIN BROWN Chief Political Correspondent

Michael Heseltine was branded the "Lord of the Bungle" last night after revealing a day too early that the unemployment figures will show a fall.

The deputy Prime Minister hailed the "excellent news" that the jobless total had gone down for the 28th month in a row during a visit to Lathom in Lancashire.

The figures, due to be released today, are normally a closely guarded secret because of their market sensitivity. But the news was released by Mr Heseltine as he attempted to deflect questions about the reprimand for a minister who had criticised Baroness Thatcher.

Accusing the Government of leaking the figures for political ends, John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB general union, said: "The Central Statistical Office should be independent of party politics, but Tarzan, Lord of the Bungle, has let the big cat out."

It was unclear last night whether Mr Heseltine will be carpeted for the gaffe.

John Major was also accused by Labour of making a gaffe by confirming a big defence order for Land Rover ambulances during Commons questions yesterday, two days before it was due to be formally announced.

However, the Ministry of Defence last night insisted no decision had been taken. They said Mr Major had been referring to an order from the Italian government.