Heseltine acknowledges party critics

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

A RARE message of defensive diffidence was issued by ministers yesterday, with representatives at the Conservative Party's Edinburgh conference facing repeated calls for unity and courage in the face of current adversity, writes Anthony Bevins.

Even Michael Heseltine, responding to the unusually critical tone of speakers, conceded that the Scottish party was 'absolutely right to tell us that we must get our show together, resume a confident posture, and go out and win'.

In the wake of last week's English election setbacks and this week's government retreats on school tests and unit fines, the President of the Board of Trade said: 'We are the party of government, responsive to the public mood, not bowed by pressure.

'Certain of our philosophy, practical in the art of progress, above all a party man enough for the storms. We have weathered them before, together. We have come through to earn the reward. We know there will be a better season.'

But the most remarkable response of the day was delivered by Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, who suggested that no one without exceptional ability could achieve the highest office in the land and that John Major could yet become a great prime minister.

He told a lunchtime fringe meeting that Mr Major had achieved what President George Bush and the French socialists had been unable to do - win 'a difficult election in the midst of a severe recession'.

Heseltine acknowledges party critics