Decision day for popular rebel on Major's 'barmy' list: Patricia Wynn Davies reports on the fate of Sir Richard Body

WEEKS OF speculation over whether the maverick Tory Sir Richard Body will relinquish his seat will end tonight with a crunch meeting of his Holland with Boston constituency association executive.

It will be another bad night for John Major, whether Sir Richard bows out to prompt a new year by- election or - as has become a distinct possibility - he continues as MP but resigns the Tory whip.

His executive could do a lot worse than encourage the latter course. Mr Major's overall Commons majority would be reduced to 16 on some issues, but it would keep a Conservative MP in place until he could be deselected at the next election.

Moreover, the Prime Minister might have included him on his list of 'barmy' MPs, but Sir Richard is popular in his Fenland seat. That is partly due, ironically, to his repeated opposition to the Bill to ratify the Maastricht treaty, which ensured Sir Richard spared no effort turning in a near- faultless performance as a constituency MP.

'When I hear the name Body, I hear the sound of white coats flapping' was the particular opprobrium singled out for him by Mr Major. But Sir Richard now seems to relish the tag, claiming that a world without 'barmies' is an infinitely duller one.

The more serious difficulty is Mr Major's reassertion of authority in the wake of the Maastricht revolts and the message, emphasised at the party conference, that public disagreements will not be tolerated.

Rupert Allason, the MP for Torbay who failed to turn up for the Maastricht confidence vote this summer, had the whip suspended. Sir Norman Fowler, the party chairman, would probably like nothing better than to do that to Sir Richard Body. But he has, meanwhile, had to suffer the annoyance of begging his constituency officers to urge the MP to stay. A by-election would be infinitely more damaging, almost certainly reducing the majority to 15 whether or not Sir Richard decided to stand, as has also been rumoured, as an independent.

An old-style right-wing monetarist, the roots of Sir Richard's stalwart opposition to the Maastricht treaty go back to when he chaired the Get Britain Out (of the European Community) referendum campaign in 1974. But despite the repeated resignation hints, the 66-year-old former barrister, farmer and pig breeder enjoys being an MP.

His high profile, however, has brought him the offer of a lucrative publishing contract for economics books, from the Adamantine Press in Copenhagen. Sir Richard has already penned four books on farming, one of which led the former agriculture minister, Peter Walker, to label him a socialist - one of many occasions when Sir Richard, outwardly the classic county Tory, has appeared to buck the system.

He is a long-standing member of the Carlton Club, but the affinity with the Conservative establishment ends there. Apart from the contradiction of being a Tory and an anti-hanging and anti-nuclear power Quaker, he is the Prince Charles of the agriculture world. Reputedly Private Eye's original 'Old Muckspreader' columnist and a hate figure of the National Farmers' Union, he backs traditional, ecologically- sensitive methods and has waged vigorous campaigns for animal welfare and against the use of pesticides and fluoride.

In the wake of the salmonella and listeriosis crises, he called for the abolition of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. There was, he reasoned, no Ministry for Clothing Companies or Grocery Shops.

(Photograph omitted)

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 year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there