John Smith 1938-1994: PM at the centre of redrawn agenda

Click to follow
The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR will go ahead with a keynote speech to the Scottish Conservative Party conference in Inverness today, after yesterday's business was suspended as a mark of respect for John Smith, writes Colin Brown.

It could be one of the most difficult speeches he has had to deliver, as he still has the task of lifting Tory morale for the European election campaign.

Although the threat to his leadership appears to have receded, Mr Major is under pressure to consolidate his position by tackling head-on his internal critics. It is expected he will do that by redirecting the in-fighting towards the opposition parties.

Before the conference was suspended, Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, was given a standing ovation after a rallying call to the Scottish party to back Mr Major's leadership. Other senior Cabinet colleagues were also preparing to rally behind Mr Major at the conference today.

While the Prime Minister's speech was being redrafted in London, the programme for the final day of the conference was being redrawn. News of Mr Smith's heart attack filtered through the conference hall at the Eden Court Theatre as Mr Clarke was speaking.

The 200 delegates appeared shocked when Mr Smith's death was announced at 10.50 by Adrian Shinwell, president of the Scottish Conservative Association. They stood for a minute's silence and suspended the business for the morning, abandoning debates on local government and education.

Ian Lang, the Secretary of State for Scotland, told the conference at 2.15pm that as a mark of respect, the rest of the day's business was also being suspended. 'There are times when heart and mind stand still, when all the problems and worries of our daily lives fade into insignificance. Such a time is now,' he said, in a tribute to Mr Smith.