TORY LEADERSHIP ELECTION: Fighting talk in land of warm beer and cricket

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Quod oported id faciam, the motto on 500 purple school blazers, welcomed John Major yesterday as he opened the first full day of his leadership renewal title fight (LRTF) in front of a home crowd in his constituency. The Prime Minister is short of a Latin O-level but one of his classically trained fight attendants (or spin doctors as they are sometimes called) translated the motto for him: "I will do whatever is necessary."

Still the Queen's first minister, but now crucially short of a heavyweight party leader title, Mr Major needed to show he could throw good punches, would go the distance, and could intimidate would-be title challengers.

Sensibly, the cut-men in his corner, those who will keep the PM's confidence up and wipe the sweat from his brow as he battles through the LRTF in the coming fortnight, advised a light warm-up for the morning. Hemingford nursery school, a few babies held up to get in the swing of things, and then up a weight division to Ailwyn Community School in Ramsey, just north of Huntingdon.

For the grant-maintained school it was a rare opportunity to see an as yet unbeaten prize-fighter. Would the school orchestra welcome the PM with American-style razzmatazz? No. Thankfully this was Ailwyn School nestling in the sun and shade of Ramsey Abbey; this was a school with a cricket field; a village where pubs could be relied on to serve warm beer; this was a place associated with Cromwell; this was Major country.

The school orchestra opened with a Strauss polka and a bit of sensible Greig. A nice cup of tea from a nice floral patterned cup, relieved the work-out tensions endured when Huntingdon's champion ran the gauntlet of the media.

Immaculately turned out by his corner, Mr Major looked in good shape and, as one of the pupils remarked, "much more relaxed than he looks on telly".

Bobbing and weaving, jabbing and countering, Mr Major looked impressive as he explained his decision to throw in the title and then fight to get it back. "I want to sort out the fevered mutterings" he said. "The real political agenda ... has been extinguished by the chatter we've had about the leadership of the party. And I've had enough of that."

If Mr Major had known who his opponent was, he may have said: "This town ain't big enough for both of us." But with no hat yet in the ring, he opted for: "I think it's time to sort this out once and for all."

This was a fighter confident of victory. Throwing some fast-landing one-twos, he added: "No idea whose going to challenge/ I'm not speculating/ I'm in and I'm going to win."

Even a last-minute come-back by the media over Douglas Hurd's resignation barely winded the Huntingdon champ. He signed autographs and waved as he set off from the school for some light practice sparring with Huntingdon Community Radio.

After a work-out with constituents in his surgery, a calorie-watching lunch with local business people, and a private dinner party, the LRTF contender was scheduled to make his way back to fight headquarters in London today.

David Wallwork, principal teacher at Ailwyn, said: "We were told by Downing Street to expect the media standing in the flower beds and trampling on the kids. But it's been a great success. Mr Major looked relaxed. He chatted with all the kids."

David Booker, an Ailwyn first-former, was delighted at meeting the champ. "I spoke to the Prime Minister. I did. I showed him a history computer programme about peasants. He was quite impressed." David's mate shouted at him. "You spoke to Johnny. Did you? Whoaa."