In a sombre speech to the Scottish conference, overshadowed by John Smith's death, the President of the Board of Trade said the Prime Minister had taken 'tough and courageous' decisions in the face of public adversity.
'The Prime Minister has proved time and again he is determined to do that. His government is determined to support him and I know that our party will back him and his government through thick and through thin,' Mr Heseltine said. The temporary truce called by the parties as a mark of respect to the late Labour leader subdued the conference and forced a string of Cabinet ministers, including Mr Heseltine, to abandon their prepared speeches in which they intended to attack the Opposition. It produced the rare sight of ministers concentrating on their own policies, instead of rubbishing those of their opponents.
Mr Heseltine cast aside the rhetorical fireworks which have earned him the reputation of a conference barnstormer. It was a performance with the brakes on.
He spoke of the 'cloud that hangs over the British political scene'. The most sincere tribute to Mr Smith's outstanding qualities was the way in which his death has stilled the clash of party controversy. 'It is nevertheless inevitable that politics continues. The debate is still there. John Smith would be the first to recognise that . . .
'Our economic prospects are now as bright as at any time I can remember. They will only stay bright if we keep our nerve and allow the success of our economic policies to deliver the rising living standards that we promised and which we are determined to achieve.'
Mr Heseltine said there was a rising tide of confidence about the economy. 'It is like the first day of spring. You feel it every year,' he said.Reuse content