Lamont signals opposition to switching jobs

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The Independent Online
NORMAN LAMONT yesterday appeared to raise the stakes over any early Cabinet reshuffle by declaring there was 'absolutely no' other government position that interested him.

His comment in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the US newspaper, appeared to rule out any swap with Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary - a move that would infuriate the Prime Minister's Euro-sceptic wing - or a move to any other Cabinet post.

That impression was re-inforced in an interview in the Times newspaper yesterday where he said the Chancellor's job was the one he had always wanted, and that its excitement was 'like living a thriller. There's no other way I would like to spend my life.' His comments, while short of a straight 'back me or sack me' message, raised speculation that if continuing criticism of his performance forces the Prime Minister to move him, the Chancellor might chose to leave government for the obvious attractions of City directorships that his ministerial role since 1979 has denied him.

If Mr Lamont were moved within the Cabinet, John Major's Euro-sceptic and more Thatcherite wings would see anything other than a transfer to the Home or Foreign Secretaries' posts as a clear demotion, and there are senior ministers who are determined Mr Lamont should stay in the highest reaches of government.

His brief allusions to his post came as the Prime Minister's office maintained a careful distance from a warning to the press by Mr Lamont that its recent behaviour has increased the chances of legislation. 'I think if they are not careful, the press will become a major political issue of the 1990s, as the unions were in the 1970s. They are both overmighty subjects,' he told the Times.

He had read the view that there was a conspiracy against him. 'I emphatically do not believe in conspiracies. But it seems to me the press have a powerfully destructive herd instinct, which I believe will be their undoing.'

He believed the press had over- reached itself in its treatment of the Royal Family. He was all for the entertainment of tabloid newspapers, 'but no one condones their methods of paying for information, encouraging people to tell unsubstantiated allegations, or inviting readers to listen in to someone else's alleged private telephone conversations. Newspapers in my view often come very close to breaking the law.'

It was 'the height of absurdity' that last week he had to leave a meeting with Jacques Delors, head of the European Commission, on Britain's EC budget contributions 'to answer questions about whether I bought a bottle of wine in Paddington and the price of that bottle'.

Mr Major's office, however, declined to comment on his view that the press had become an 'overmighty subject', stating the Government was awaiting recommendations from the Calcutt inquiry on privacy and the media.