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Carlisle plays down prospect of acting as 'stalking horse'

JOHN CARLISLE, the right-wing Conservative MP for Luton North, insisted yesterday that he did not intend 'at the moment' to stand this autumn as a 'stalking horse' contender for the party leadership, writes Donald Macintyre.

Mr Carlisle, one of the few backbenchers to have openly questioned John Major's leadership, said that while there 'could well be a challenge' there was only a 'faint possibility' that it would be he who made it. He said Mr Major had had a 'better couple of weeks' and if talk of a challenge spurred him into 'sticking to policies and showing some form of leadership, part of the objective will be achieved'.

But he added: 'The big test is coming up in the local and European elections in May and June. His position will be reassessed after that.'

Margaret Beckett, Labour's deputy leader, predicted that Mr Major would hang on by 'his fingernails' as party leader. She told BBC TV's Breakfast with Frost that there was no doubt there were moves against Mr Major in his party.

She said: 'One part thinks he will hang on by his fingernails and that they will never get him out. Another part thinks he will so lose his temper that he will storm out one day.'

But she added: 'The Conservative Party are very ruthless, but I think he will hang on.'