Party strategists are urging Mr Major to go for a by-election on 8 July to deny the Liberal Democrats - already 15 points ahead in one poll - time to start a campaign bandwagon.
However, such a move would be risky for Mr Major. The Newbury by-election defeat helped to accelerate Norman Lamont's sacking as Chancellor and a further defeat would raise questions about Mr Major's leadership. The Liberal Democrats need a swing of 20 per cent to win, 8 per cent less than the swing in Newbury.
The Tories were having difficulty persuading some former ministers to fight the by-election caused by the death of Robert Adley, but Mr Hayward, 44, will be regarded as a strong candidate. He is a psephologist, a shrewd campaigner and has been advising the party on boundary changes to constituencies across the country since losing his marginal Kingswood seat at the general election.
Mr Hayward, a rugby referee, was a popular MP and became a ministerial aide.