Tory advises City to cultivate Labour

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The Independent Online

Political Editor

The growing crisis of Tory party confidence in John Major's leadership was compounded last night after leading backbenchers called on the Government to sharpen its act and a Tory MP advised consultancy clients to "build contacts" with Labour.

The executive of the 1922 Committee discussed the draft text of a message to Downing Street intended to press the Government to help homeowners, reduce taxes and spending, and clarify its message on Europe and increase its credibility on law and order.

The executive's discussion was leaked, to the dismay of some members, only hours after Dudley Fishburn, Tory MP for Kensington, had been forced to defend advice to the City to deal with a Labour Party "scenting a spell in government".

Mr Fishburn's advice was gleefully greeted by the Opposition as the most graphic evidence yet of the defeatism infecting an increasingly febrile Tory party. The latest spate ofspeculation about Mr Major's leadership was fuelled by an ICM/Guardian poll today showing Labour at an adjusted vote share of 53 per cent - a lead of 29 points over the Tories compared with only 19 last month.

The move by the 1922 executive came as Sir John Hannam, committee secretary, said an autumn leadership challenge was "quite possible" and urged Mr Major to "get back on his soapbox."

Last night's developments came as the Prime Minister flew out to the G7 summit after Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, accused the most Euro- sceptic MPs - some of whom subjected Mr Major to an abrasive grilling on Tuesday night - of "right wing xenophobia".

The MP for Kensington (who is competing to represent Kensington and Chelsea, potentially the safest Tory seat after boundary reorganisation) identifies five Labour frontbenchers as ideal business invitees and says boardrooms should not shrink from inviting Tony Blair, the Labour leader.

Mr Fishburn tells clients that after the pounds 25,000 donation from the media conglomerate Pearson, the Walworth Road team "has become anxious to get its better MPs out into more boardrooms to spread the word and bring back the bacon".

He suggests Alistair Darling, an "intelligent and undoctrinaire" shadow Treasury team member; Geoffrey Hoon, a whip and "bright spark"; Gordon Brown, shadow Chancellor, "very much in need of improving his contacts with industry"; Andrew Smith, shadow Chief Secretary, "part of a future Treasury team"; and Peter Mandelson, "the intelligence behind much of Labour's new face".

Last night an unrepentant Mr Fishburn said he had never thought everything the Tories did was right or that everything Labour did was wrong.

Leadership challenge, page 8