Ministers praise star performer

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EVEN BEFORE he sat down, ministers were in the members' lobby proclaiming what a good job Michael Heseltine had done, writes Colin Brown.

'It was a bravura performance, don't you think?' said one minister. 'He's done enough to win over the doubters. And he had the rest eating of out of his hand. The rebels seem to have been bought off and the vote on Monday will be a bit of a yawn now,' said another.

Thatcherite ministers were also pleased. 'The key announcement is that pits due for closure will be offered for sale. Mrs Thatcher was reluctant to do that. There were arguments that you couldn't put the miners' redundancy at risk. But now we are going to have a non-British Coal competitor. That's very important,' one said.

Some of 'Prezza Hezza's' enemies on his own backbench - who cannot forgive the President of the Board of Trade for bringing down Baroness Thatcher - reluctantly conceded his skills at political knockabout were undimmed. He remains one of the few big hitters in the Government's frontbench team.

'He is a very clever debater. There aren't very many who can dish it out to Tony Benn,' one former Thatcher lieutenant said.

However, some of his supporters feel that Mr Heseltine, 60 last weekend, has suffered lasting damage from the debacle over colliery closures.

A Cabinet minister said: 'He's still a tiger in the jungle, but he has been badly wounded. I don't think he can recover.'