Lamont newspaper row casts shadow over Major: Former Chancellor denies saying moral crusade is 'nauseating'. Patricia Wynn Davies reports

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A ROW over newspaper claims that Norman Lamont had called the Prime Minister 'weak and hopeless' last night overshadowed John Major's latest attempt to resuscitate his 'back to basics' campaign.

Mr Major signalled his determination to stand by his slogan - defining the 'basics' as the economy, education and building a safer and 'more ordered society'. However, a storm broke over an interview with Mr Lamont in today's Times in which he reportedly lambasted the Prime Minister for the 'pathetic' censoring of his former Chancellor's speeches, on one occasion to remove all reference to Baroness Thatcher.

Mr Lamont last night denounced the article as 'mixture of invented quotations and muddled misrepresentation of things said off the record outside the interview'. He added: 'It does not reflect accurately either my views or my general attitude.'

The Times's editor, Peter Stothard, said: 'The Times stands fully behind Ginny Dougary's account of her meetings and discussions with Norman Lamont. We vigorously reject the charge that any of the quotations were invented.'

The end of a bad week for the Government, with ministers mounting defences against Labour claims of broken taxation promises, was not helped by Downing Street's confirmation that 10 per cent of all pensioners will pay more tax from April.

In a speech to the Leeds Chamber of Commerce last night, Mr Major concentrated on economic and educational basics, limiting the subject of the controversial moral arena to a single reference to building a 'more ordered society'.

In the Times interview, Mr Lamont is reported describing the moral crusade as 'nauseating' and proclaiming that he would never be caught 'banging on about family values'.

Mr Major said that Britain had the conditions for long-term sustainable growth - 2 per cent growth, 51 2 per cent interest rates, the lowest time lost through strikes for more than a century and falling unemployment. But Mr Lamont appeared intent on claiming the credit too, saying: 'I believe that my stewardship at the Exchequer will be seen to have been effective in laying down the basis for recovery.'

Ministers yesterday sought to underline the Government's claim that tax would be higher under a Labour spending programme. But low taxation did not appear expressly in Mr Major's list of 'the most basic basics' of the economy: 'lower borrowing, lower unemployment, low inflation and more growth.'

Emphasising that competitiveness was the key theme of the economic and education basics, Mr Major pledged the 're-skilling of Britain' along with the three Rs.

But Tony Blair, shadow Home Secretary, said: 'The increased tax and spending (under the Tories) has not gone to build future success but to pay for past failure.'

According to Inland Revenue calculations yesterday, 900,000 husbands or widows will lose out because of the restriction of the married couple's allowance or widow's bereavement allowance to 20 per cent. While other Budget changes mean that one million single pensioners and pensioner wives, plus 200,000 husbands, are better off, the typical loss from allowance changes will be pounds 60 a year for basic rate tax payers.