Tory tensions heightened by Redwood's angry rebuke

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The Independent Online
John Major's problems with former "bastards" in the Cabinet flared again last night when John Redwood angrily rebuked the Prime Minister for accusing him of promoting "reckless and silly" proposals for cutting public expenditure.

The row exposed tensions within the Tory high command in the wake of last Thursday's defeat in the Staffordshire South East by-election as it emerged that John Major is ruling out both an early Cabinet reshuffle and a lurch to the tax-cutting agenda of the Tory right.

Mr Major said, in an effort to dismiss Labour accusations that he is leading his party to the right, that the calls for cuts in public expenditure by Mr Redwood, a champion of the right, were "reckless and silly".

Mr Redwood, who resigned from the Cabinet to challenge Mr Major for the leadership, hit back. He said: "The Prime Minister is wrong to say I want reckless and immediate cuts in spending and taxation.

"Last autumn I did propose a costed programme of reduced growth in public spending in order to remove VAT on fuel and some other tax increases. The Government then decided to cut income tax by 1p instead."

Earlier, senior right-wingers criticised Brian Mawhinney, the Tory chairman, for an outburst in a BBC radio interview.

Senior Tory backbenchers privately accused him of being unprofessional in his attack on interviewer Sue MacGregor - not least because he, rather than she, had raised the issue of "dumping the Prime Minister."

The clash with Ms MacGregor arose in a discussion on the popularity gap the Tories need to close between now and the general election. The BBC interviewer said: "Now in 1990 you did something dramatic. You got rid of the poll tax you also got rid if Mrs Thatcher. Aren't you going to have to do something as dramatic as that not to lose so many seats?

Mr Mawhinney replied: "Let's stay in the real world, can we? What you have just suggested... is that we should dump the Prime Minister. Don't be ridiculous. That isn't even worthy of any answer."

The exchange follows friction between Tory Central Office and No 10 over who is to blame for the by-election defeat, leading to suggestions from Mr Mawhinney that there should be a Cabinet reshuffle. However, Mr Major has discounted any idea of "ritual bloodletting".

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