Clarke insists there is no leadership dispute: Ministers rush to broadcast their support for Prime Minister

KENNETH CLARKE, the Chancellor, insisted yesterday there was 'no dispute' over the Tory party's leadership, as he and other government heavyweights rallied round John Major.

The damage limitation came amid party managers' relief at the exodus of MPs from a febrile Westminster for their Easter break, mixed with the knowledge that with local, European and by-elections to come, a drama had merely been postponed, not concluded.

Ministers seized the opportunity to crowd the airwaves, playing down the Prime Ministerial crisis of confidence among backbenchers in a string of radio and television interviews.

The sharpest remark came from Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury. In what could be interpreted as a rebuke to potential leadership contenders, he warned of reprisals in the forthcoming elections. 'We all know a party that allows itself to be drawn into speculation about the leadership is not a party that is going to succeed in elections,' he said.

The Chancellor, dismissed the 'extraordinary extraction' from an interview on Wednesday which was interpreted as a message that he would not allow Michael Heseltine a free run at the leadership.

'No dispute over the leadership will take place,' Mr Clarke told a Conservative Central Office news conference.

In his previous statements he could not have given 'a more ringing declaration' of his confidence that Mr Major was, and would continue to be, firmly in charge of events, he insisted.

In contrast to the two Tory backbenchers who have openly called for Mr Major to stand down, Teddy Taylor, the arch anti-European MP for Southend East, urged that leadership contest threats should be called off.

He said in a constituency speech: 'It wouldn't help at all to replace John Major with one of the clowns who agreed to the strategy on majority voting and then agreed to the outcome.

'John Major has the asset of being honourable and decent, which is a rare asset in politics these days.'

Speaking at the launch of his book, Europe: The Europe We Need, Sir Leon Brittan, the British EU Commissioner, said he believed Britain had not been damaged by its unsuccessful stand over qualified majority voting (QMV).

He said: 'A compromise was reached. Every country is entitled to put forward arguments for its view. The damage is only done if you don't reach a compromise.'

Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, declared that the entire Cabinet backed Mr Major, while Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, said: 'It's damaging for about 48 hours. We get these bouts of fever and they subside.'

But if not before, the fever is likely to break out afresh when the Tories receive the expected drubbing in the 9 June European Parliament elections.

In an effort to focus minds on the task of fighting these contests, Mr Hurd has written to all MPs and ministers saying: 'I feel strongly that the time has now come to raise our sights to the campaign for the European Parliament elections in June.

'The contrast has to be made clear between our vision of a decentralised, free-trading Europe built on the nation states, and the centralised, interventionist, bureaucratic superstate after which the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats hanker.'

Mr Hurd said Labour had signed up to a European Parliament declaration calling for QMV to be extended to all significant policy areas, while the Liberal Democrats believed the national veto should be given up.

'Our party is the only one clearly committed to the preservation of the British veto where that is required. You should make no bones about this in your campaign.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Frank Turner performing at 93 Feet East
musicReview: 93 Feet East, London
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Extras
indybest
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer / Systems Administrator

£25000 - £32500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in SW London, this compan...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion this leading designer and sup...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a friendly, confident i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Primary Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: At Tradewind Recruitment we are currently l...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee