The Yeo Resignation: How minister was brought to heel

WHEN Tim Yeo entered the headquarters of the South Suffolk Conservative Association on Tuesday night, there was a discernible, almost cocky, spring in his step, writes Steve Boggan.

Accompanied by his wife, Diane, Mr Yeo had arrived to take on local party officials, to satisfy them that he was still the right man for the job.

Two and a half hours later, when he walked out into the cold night air of Hadleigh to face the media, the spring was gone. The face was wan; he looked exhausted. Yesterday the extent of his grilling by the eight members of the executive committee became clear. In a terse statement, they clearly failed to give him their backing.

Worse than that, they went further. Acknowledging his good work as an MP, they added: ' . . . the officers were nevertheless deeply concerned at the widespread disappointment and criticism being expressed by party members and urged Mr Yeo to reflect on the views expressed.' It was seen as an invitation to jump before he was pushed.

Yet the meeting had started well for Mr Yeo. He sat on one side of a long conference table on the second floor of the Grade 2 listed building. His wife and his agent, Carys Parry, were at his side. To his right, at the head of the table, was the formidable figure of Patricia FitzPatrick, chairman of the association, and opposite were the other seven members. 'He spoke first and gave his side of the story,' said one insider. 'He said he was sorry, he had been foolish but he did not want to resign.'

During a constant flow of cups of coffee, Mrs Yeo said that she was standing by her man. At this stage, it looked as if the minister had a realistic chance of winning support.

But the mood changed rapidly. Mrs FitzPatrick, a devout Christian and staunch church-goer, summarised the concerns of constituents at Mr Yeo's adulterous behaviour. Then, one by one, the other members told him of the grassroots feeling across the constituency. 'It was obvious he was surprised and shocked,' said the insider. 'He tried not to show it, but you could tell.'

A look round the room told Mr Yeo there was no hope. 'There was no split,' said another insider. 'Everyone felt sad, but firm.'

Mr Yeo emerged into the glare of television lights to say the meeting had been 'constructive'. Mrs Yeo, who took the wheel of their Ford Escort XR3i, said nothing, staring blankly at the horizon. There seems little doubt that Mr Yeo had underestimated grassroots feeling. Yesterday, constituents said they would not be happy with his resignation as minister; they wanted him out as MP too.