TORY LEADERSHIP ELECTION: Backroom boys drafted in as Major campaign gathers pace

CANVASSING
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The Independent Online
Behind the drawn curtains at 13 Cowley Street in Westminster, a Georgian house near the Commons, John Major's inner circle of supporters was hard at work, canvassing for support over the telephone.

Robert Hughes, a former whip, was acting as the unofficial whip and office manager for the Prime Minister's campaign, working on names in a blue folder, chivvying the team to keep up the hard work of phoning, persuading and cajoling.

Mr Hughes, on the left of the party, took charge of ringing others on the left of the party who have been increasingly anxious about the apparent shift by Mr Major towards the Euro-sceptics. Some MPs were also disgruntled at the Prime Minister's acceptance of the Nolan committee report, which threatens all their consultancy fees. Whatever their grievance, it has to be addressed.

Archie Hamilton, a former defence minister, was put in charge of ringing round the right-wingers who needed reassurance that Mr Major was really their man.

Sir Graham Bright, the Prime Minister's former Parliamentary Private Secretary, was on hand to offer more reassurance, with the hint of a meeting with Mr Major if it was needed.

The Prime Minister has also drafted in as backroom boys Howell James, the political secretary at 10 Downing Street, and his number two, George Bridges, deputy political secretary.

During the day, Major supporters, including Sir John Wheeler, the Northern Ireland security minister, dropped by to offer help. Conservative MPs also telephoned to assure the Prime Minister he had their backing. Mr Major's campaign was attracting support from left and right, including Michael Brown, a former whip on the Thatcherite right of the party.

Some of his close friends were working in their constituencies to maximise the vote for Mr Major. Robert Atkins, an environment minister and cricketing friend of his, was busy at home telephoning Tory MPs in his region. By 3pm, he had covered the whole of Lancashire and was starting on the Lake District.

Other Conservative MPs had similar operations under way elsewhere. Nothing was being taken for granted by the Major team, haunted by the fact that Baroness Thatcher had been forced into a fatal second ballot by just four votes and that history could have been changed by two MPs who were allowed to fall outside her net.

The Prime Minister's decision to appoint Lord Cranborne in overall command of his campaign was seen as very shrewd by his supporters. "Cranborne is a very sexy choice," said one female Major enthusiast. "He is on the right of the party; he is a 'quality' old money Tory; and he is a very good organiser."

Lord Cranborne, Leader of the Lords and Lord Privy Seal in the Cabinet, showed his organisational skills by arranging the VE-Day celebrations, which went off without a hitch.

Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, who was a contemporary of John Cleese and the Beyond the Fringe satirists, is deciding on media bids for key ministers backing the Major campaign; Michael Howard, the Home Secretary; Brian Mawhinney, the Secretary of State for Transport; and David Hunt, the public service minister in the Cabinet.

David Davis, formerly a trouble-shooter with Tate and Lyle and now a Foreign Office minister in charge of negotiations on the future of the European Union, is one of the key tactician in the campaign team.

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