Poll rejects mail sell-off

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A CLEAR majority of Conservative activists, and all nine Ulster Unionist MPs, have come out against a sell-off of the Post Office in a potentially fatal double blow to privatisation.

A MORI poll of Tory party constituency chairman, commissioned by the post office unions and leaked to the Independent on Sunday, shows that 57 per cent want the post office kept in the public sector.

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist MPs have written a formal submission to Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, saying they are opposed to his preferred option of a 51 per cent sell-off. This could lead to the first big rift between the Ulster Unionists and John Major since they struck their 'understanding' last year.

Opponents of post office privatisation may now need only eight Tory rebels to defeat a parliamentary Bill. At least seven Conservative MPs, including Sir Edward Heath, the former prime minister, are known to be hostile.

Although the Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, is backing the sale, Mr Major is more cautious. A Green Paper has stated that the Government's preferred option is the sale of 51 per cent of Royal Mail and Parcelforce. Post Office Counters would stay in the public sector.

MORI found that 57 per cent of constituency party chairmen agreed with keeping the post office 'together in the public sector' but giving it 'more commercial freedom'.

The poll covered 148 out of 651 chairmen, more than half of whose areas are represented by a Tory MP. Nearly half said that they were certain, or fairly likely, to contact their MP regarding the issue.