PM appeals to backbenchers

John Major yesterday took the unusual step of writing to all Tory backbench MPs in an attempt to lift flagging morale and head off renewed threats to his leadership.

The Prime Minister's letter appealed to the MPs to take part in the meetings being organised in every constituency by the party to listen to ideas for the Tory general election manifesto.

He also sought to answer critics, such as Norman Lamont, the former chancellor, who recently called for a return to Thatcherism with a sideswipe at Labour's increasing appeal under Tony Blair.