Blair says Heseltine will run 'Tory lie machine'

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Indy Politics
Tony Blair, the Labour leader, yesterday heaped derision on a Conservative leadership contest that was watched by millions "with a mixture of horror and disgust", amid fresh criticisms of John Major's new-look Cabinet from his party's right wing.

Ridiculing Michael Heseltine's new Deputy Prime Minister role as leader of the opposition to the Opposition, Mr Blair said the job would entail "leading the Tory lie machine", not helping to run Britain.

"Did you notice how the Tories all lined up to say that 'now we have settled the leadership, we can get on with the real job in hand - attacking the Labour Party'," the Labour leader said. "Excuse me, but isn't the real job of government to govern the country and to provide clear leadership."

Mr Blair told a British Society of Magazine Editors' function at the Ritz Hotel that the public would not believe that peace and harmony had broken out. "They cannot put the genie back in the bottle."

Speaking from his Huntingdon constituency, Mr Major was happy to trade insults: "I do think Tony does talk ripe nonsense from time to time. If you take the European issue, the Labour Party have more dissenters on Europe than the Conservative Party has had."

Mr Blair said the Government would now simply be used as a propaganda machine in a bid to win the election. "Every decision will be taken with an eye on the next day's papers." Taxes would be cut, new public spending found and unpopular policies temporarily concealed.

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, told consitutency activists that the "Tory farce" of the past fortnight had meant nothing to people whose lives "are not represented by this unruly rabble".

Beneath the post-leadership election rhetoric, however, the Labour leadership is aware of the probability that the popularity of John Major and his party will take a leap upwards in the polls before settling down.

But the need for Mr Major to keep the lid on dissent over his reshuffle was again apparent yesterday.

Amid indications that John Redwood, the defeated leadership challenger, plans a sustained programme of speeches and dinners to keep the spotlight on his right-wing Euro-sceptic message, the anti-federalist Bruges Group declared its strong disapproval of the new left-leaning Cabinet.

Jonathan Collett, the group's campaign director, said: "The reshuffle fails to take account of the views put forward by the parliamentary party in the leadership election. Over one-third voted against a continuation of government policies."

It was left to Malcolm Rifkind, the new Foreign Secretary, to try to heal the rift with Mr Redwood's backers. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the Euro-sceptics were a "legitimate" part of the Conservative Party.