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.'

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?