TORY LEADERSHIP ELECTION: Cabinet urges unity as fib factor enters fray

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The Independent Online
The John Major campaign headquarters insisted yesterday that following an initial surge, a stream of steady support was coming in from MPs.

Brian Mawhinney, Secretary of State for Transport and one of the campaign managers, said the Prime Minister would "win big" in the event of a contest.

The operation in Cowley Street, Westminster, will be fully aware of the habit of MPs to pledge support at an early stage only to cast their vote differently in the final event or abstain. One aide said: "We are obviously keeping in close touch with everyone who has pledged support to us."

The inclination of MPs to hide their true intentions - or as some admit, lie - was a significant factor in the downfall of Margaret Thatcher.

If the number of abstentions takes John Major's non-vote above 100 of the 329 MPs entitled to participate he will have been severely, if not fatally, wounded.

The predicted intervention of John Redwood, who would collect far more votes than a Norman Lamont "stalking horse" challenge, sent alarm bells around the rest of the Cabinet yesterday, presenting the much more immediate task of seeking to head off the Secretary of State for Wales.

Dr Mawhinney told LWT's Jonathan Dimbleby show: "I know John Redwood. He is an honourable man. He has indicated his support for the Prime Minister and I am prepared to take him at his word."

Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, said: "He's said he's always supported him [John Major]. Nothing has changed on that."

Jeremy Hanley, the Tory party chairman, declared: "I think it would be bizarre if at the end of one week he says he's going to support the Prime Minister and at the beginning of the next he says he isn't."

Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, said that last Thursday Mr Redwood "took the trouble to telephone me to discuss the forthcoming leadership announcement and told me that he would be supporting the Prime Minister, so I assume that's still the position."

However, all the signs last night were that the entreaties had failed to make any headway.