Grassroots calls for Yeo's resignation grow: The environment minister's fate is in the hands of Tory activists who take 'family values' seriously. Will Bennett and Patricia Wynn Davies report

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The Independent Online
THE ANGER of Conservative activists in Tim Yeo's constituency will probably cost him his career as a minister and may ultimately force him out of the House of Commons.

Suffolk South is bedrock Tory territory where members take the party's policies on family values seriously. Mr Yeo, who fathered an illegitimate child during an affair with Julia Stent, a Conservative councillor in east London, is in deep trouble there.

He will be invited to speak at a meeting of the 12-strong constituency management committee in the next few days, when feedback from 40 branches should be complete. The committee cannot compel his resignation, but his ministerial career could not survive its condemnation.

A meeting in Great Cornard, near Sudbury, illustrated the mounting problems that Mr Yeo faces. He got far less sympathy from members of the Conservative branch committee than he has received from ministerial and parliamentary colleagues.

Committee members voted on five questions circulated to all branches by Ian Dowling, constituency vice-chairman. These ask whether Mr Yeo should resign as a minister, whether he should step down as an MP, whether they would reselect him, whether they would campaign for him and whether there has been a conflict of loyalty. The branch said he should resign as a minister, opposed his reselection, said that there had been a conflict of loyalty with party policy and was reluctant to campaign for him in future.

Tina Baker, the branch secretary, said: 'We were prepared for him to stay on as an MP but only because we do not want a by-election. But we would not select him as our candidate again. We are all feeling very let down.'

Mr Yeo's prospects look little better at the Haverhill branch committee meeting tomorrow night. The town's Conservative mayor, Aldine Horrigan, has written to John Major saying that Mr Yeo has 'lied and cheated' to his wife and children. She said yesterday: 'I have been getting good feedback from the letter in the constituency. People agree with every word that I wrote. I have not yet had a reply from Downing Street.'

Colin Spalding, the branch chairman, said: 'We agree with Mrs Horrigan that he should resign as a minister. I personally think that he should step down as an MP although I can't see that happening until the next election.

'I have been sounding out the views of Conservatives here. Half of them say that his position as an MP is untenable as well as his post as a minister.'

Brigadier John Rigby, secretary of the Long Melford branch, said: 'Resignation is a matter for him but were I in his his shoes I would have resigned already.'

The revelations about Mr Yeo, together with recent allegations that Steve Norris, the transport minister, had conducted a series of affairs, have spawned a policy that the Prime Minister will not actively require a minister's resignation over 'private matters'.

But the actions of Mr Norris and of David Mellor did not provoke criticism from the party rank and file - the source of much-needed financial and campaigning support.

The longer the controversy rumbles on, Cabinet members are increasingly likely to lose patience.

The strong defence of Mr Yeo delivered last week by Sir Norman Fowler, the party chairman, may have backfired.

Criticising Sir Norman's insistence that the Government's role was to 'develop public policy that has an impact on the public generally', Adrian Rogers, director of the Conservative Family Institute, said in a letter to The Times: 'Because they make the laws and set the taxes which influence how others behave (eg, laws relating to marriage, age of consent and homosexuality), their (immoral politicians') own proclivities become matters of public importance.'

Miss Stent, a 34-year-old solicitor, was smuggled into her home in Hackney, north London last night by neighbours, a fellow councillor and her father, John.

Mr Stent would make no comment about his daughter's relationship with Mr Yeo.

(Photograph omitted)