Major gives short shrift to right-wing delegation: The Prime Minister's clinical rebuff of his critics was the talk of the Commons. Donald Macintyre reports

JOHN MAJOR yesterday executed a swift, clinical and humiliating rebuff of leading right-wing backbenchers by calling a meeting with them to a halt after just two minutes.

In an unexpectedly brutal show of authority which delighted party managers, Mr Major pre-empted widely-trailed demands from the 92 Group for the promotion of right-wingers by making it clear Cabinet reshuffles were a matter for himself alone.

He compounded the embarrassment of the delegation, led by Sir George Gardiner, by making it clear that given the advance leaks of the meeting it would be better if they met at another time and without prior announcement. No date had been fixed by last night.

Mr Major's decisive treatment of the delegation, word of which was spread rapidly through the Commons after details were given to the whips by Graham Bright, the Prime Minister's parliamentary private secretary, left a politically wounded Sir George facing a possible spring challenge to his chairmanship of the leading back-bench faction on the right of the party. Sir George lost his post on the executive of the 1922 Committee last November. The move came as Cabinet ministers started to clear the decks for a probable announcement tomorrow of pay awards for public servants covered by six review bodies.

Ministers are expected to sanction awards of up to a little over 3 per cent to 740,000 NHS medical staff, but health authorities and hospitals will be expected to fund rises from savings and efficiencies.

Sir George said yesterday in a prepared statement that all those present had 'agreed that in the light of unfounded press speculation our meeting should be deferred'.

However, Sir George - who said the delegation had sat in 'easy chairs' for the brief meeting in the Prime Minister's office - admitted that John Major had made it clear that reshuffles were the Prime Minister's prerogative. Both sides at the meeting agreed that Mr Major had told the group that his door was 'always open' but this was not the time for such a meeting.

A widely-trailed list of demands canvassed by leading members of the 92 Group had included spending cuts and a commitment never to rejoin the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.

But two prominent women on the steering comittee of the 92 Group, Dame Jill Knight and Marion Roe, refused to attend the meeting with Mr Major, apparently because of deep unease about its purpose. Neither would comment last night.

MPs on the left and centre of the party reacted gleefully to Mr Major's treatment of Sir George's delegation last night. Emma Nicholson, MP for Devon West and Torridge, said: 'They didn't even get a cup of tea. That shows the way (the Prime Minister) treats the 92 Group when they attempt to hold him to ransom.'

But MPs on the right of the party also reacted warmly to the rebuff. David Evans, a member of the 1922 executive and a member of the 92 Group, congratulated Mr Major on effectively telling the deputation to 'bugger off'. He said: 'We have seen another side of John Major today.' He said the group had been 'put in their place', adding: 'What right has Sir George to tell the Prime Minister who should or should not be in his Cabinet?'

Sir Jerry Wiggin, another prominent member of the 100-strong 92 Group, also expressed concern at the move by Sir George and predicted that the '92 will meet and see where we go from here'.

Lamont loyalty pledge, page 7

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence