Plea for loyalty infuriates Tory right-wingers: 'Witch-hunt' before backbench elections
Right-wingers are infuriated that an attack on their Westminster power base is being presented as a show of loyalty to the Prime Minister by a coalition of 'wet' Lollards group MPs, right-wing deserters and pro-Europeans.
The principal target of the new, Mainstream, grouping is Sir George Gardiner, the MP for Reigate, a 1922 executive member who also chairs the right-wing 92 Group of MPs.
He was felt even by some right-wingers to have gone too far in voting against the Government in the Third Reading of the Maastricht Bill and on the vote on the social chapter.
A letter to MPs last week from the Mainstream group chairman, Sir Cranley Onslow, a senior backbencher, urged them to 'give the Government the support it needs and has the right to expect'.
Sir George insisted yesterday that trying to make loyalty an issue was 'totally bogus', hinting that the witch-hunters, some of them supporters of Kenneth Clarke, could easily turn against the Prime Minister in a leadership challenge.
'I do wonder whether some of those who are going around at the moment with loyalty pinned on their sleeve would turn out to be quite as loyal to John Major if the crunch ever came,' he said. Sir George, who organises a 'slate' of 92 Group candidates each year, has warned that the witch- hunters include a core of 'Euro-fanatics' who wanted Mr Major to change his current sceptical approach to European union.' It is not in the Prime Minister's interest to punish anybody,' he told BBC Television's On the Record.
'As far as I am aware, every one of the targeted members of the 22 support Mr Major. (It was) simply on the Maastricht issue alone we found we parted company.'
The other anti-Maastricht targets are the 1922 Committee executive members Sir Rhodes Boyson, Sir Ivan Lawrence, James Pawsey and John Townend, whose chairmanship of the Tory backbench finance committee is also under attack. Mr Townend has made a personal approach to the Prime Minister to protest at the way the campaign against them was being organised.
While Mr Major gave him an assurance that he had nothing to do with the vendetta, the Conservative high command has become concerned that backbench organisations no longer reflect 'mainstream' views. The Lollards group lacked the support to stop 92 Group candidates taking most of the key committee seats last year. This year, however, it has recruited key right-wingers, such as Ray Whitney and Sir James Spicer, to the cause of the ideological overhaul.
- 2 Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
- 3 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 4 University student in court for allegedly covering housemates' food in window cleaner and spit
In defence of liberal democracy
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
Andy McSmith's Sketch: Feisty audience is the real star of an enlightening show
£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...
£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...
£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...