Tory rebel digs up hatchet

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The Independent Online
John Major's crisis of management in the Conservative parliamentary party deepened yesterday when a senior Tory back-bencher attacked his Chief Whip as "a chief hatchet man."

Sir John Gorst, MP for Hendon North, accused Alastair Goodlad, the Chief Whip, of "fomenting discontent" among Conservative back-benchers depite the Prime Minister's pleas for unity and harmony.

The fresh outburst of discontent came amid a spate of weekend speeches by seven Tory MPs lauding the benefits of membership of the European Union, thus further stoking up the argument over Britain's role in Europe that is dividing the party.

Sir John's intervention revived a bitter internal conflict that raged last week over a threat by the Hendon North MP and Hugh Dykes, MP for Harrow East, to stop voting for the Government, which has a majority of one, if the casualty unit at their local hospital was not saved from closure. The unit is to be retained.

Mr Major denied "caving in to blackmail" by the pair, and official leaks from a meeting of the Conservative back-benchers' 1922 Committee suggested that the rebels had been given a severe dressing-down by the Chief Whip.

Sir John said his party's managers in the Whips' office had "deliberately stage-managed the disharmony".

It was "a strange way to achieve sweetness and light, by making personal attacks on absent colleagues".

He went on: "Clearly, the Whips both blessed and engineered the leaks and can hardly have believed that in so doing they were taking steps towards peace and tranquility." The leaked version of the "dressing-down" meeting made Jeffrey Archer sound like a historian.

"The reality is that it was the Chief Whip who was roasted by us; indeed, he hardly got a word in edgeways, which is hardly surprising for someone who is renowned for being a man of few words."

Sir John, whose unprecedentlypublic attack on the Chief Whip indicates deep unease in the party, is refusing to attend any further meetings of the 1922 Committee "for as long as it continues to be a forum for the expression of the sanitised opinions of the party leadership orchestrated by the Whips who sit at the back".

In the weekend wave of EU speeches, Sir Peter Temple-Morris, Tory MP for Leominster, said: "Whether we like it or not, Europe will steadily drive on towards increasing union. We are now being seen as a hindrance and an obstruction to that process. We are in Europe but increasingly not part of it."

Ray Whitney, MP for Wycombe, derided the "antics of the Eurosceptics".

He said: "The fact is that most of them are not 'sceptical' at all - they just lack the courage to spell out their view that Britain should leave the European Union."

Alan Watkins, page 19