The MP for Welwyn Hatfield, right-winger and former chairman of Luton Town football club, delivered the rebuff with his usual inimitable style, declaring of John Major from beside his indoor swimming pool: "I think he's going to lose."
Interviewed by BBC 1's On the Record, Mr Evans was clearly annoyed that the 18-strong executive had pledged to unanimously nominate Mr Major for the leadership when two members were absent, but there was more to come. "The Prime Minister has called this leadership election . . . I believe it lets me out of that responsibility, that loyalty to the Prime Minister.
"He's even set his own office up, to canvass all the backbenchers, so I don't feel loyalty as part of that executive any more . . . I'm quite prepared to say to you that I won't be endorsing the Prime Minister's candidacy myself."
Mr Evans, who has privately confided his weariness of Mr Major's consensus politics and his refusal to conduct savage Cabinet reshuffles, spotlighted the choice backbench MPs have been presented "to say we can win with this man . . . can win with this Government. And if they come to the conclusion that they can't win with this man, they can't win with this Government, notwithstanding all the success - and it's legion the success but the public don't believe it - he may have a shock."
From the opposite end of the political spectrum, Tory grandee Peter Temple- Morris, the pro-European MP for Leominster and one of Michael Heseltine's campaign managers in 1990, said the left could not be taken for granted. "There is this assumption because of the sort of people that the pro-Europeans tend to be that they are basically loyalist on their tendencies and indeed supportive of John Major as Prime Minister," he said.
"I think that would be a great mistake to take that support for granted, and if it is taken so much for granted that our position in Europe [on the single currency] is closed off, that's obviously something we take very seriously indeed."
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