Hurd and Howard deny Tory crisis: Cabinet double-act seeks to steady nerves in government

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Indy Politics
TWO senior Cabinet ministers yesterday sought to steady Tory nerves by denying there was a leadership crisis and insisting the Government would recover from the current 'media frenzy'.

Douglas Hurd, Foreign Secretary, declared: 'There isn't a leadership crisis. There wasn't one in the autumn when a lot of the national newspapers were reporting one and there certainly isn't one now.'

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, invoked the 1986 Westland crisis - when Margaret Thatcher told close colleagues she might have to resign - as an example of another period when the 'media wrote off our chances'. He added: 'It turned out that the British people were far less interested in this subject than the press were.'

Mr Hurd's remarks, in an interview on BBC radio's Jimmy Young programme, and Mr Howard's in a London speech to Young Conservatives, underlined a concerted Cabinet effort to calm the Tory rank and file in the face of a renewed onslaught on Mr Major's leadership by elements of the Tory press.

The Foreign Secretary deflected suggestions that the Government's back to basics theme had divided the Cabinet and had been hijacked by senior right wingers attacking the permissive society and the welfare state. He said that the keynote speech last Friday by Michael Portillo, attacking national cynicism, was 'excellent'.

Mr Hurd said that Mr Portillo's speech - in which he suggested that there was a defeatist elite of opinion formers which were out to undermine the establishment - was a 'High Tory speech . . . of a kind I haven't heard him make before . . . He was saying, as Disraeli said . . . the business of the Conservative Party is to protect and defend the institutions of this country.'

Mr Howard declared: 'It's time that commentators lifted their eyes beyond short-term froth and focused on what really matters to the country. When they do so we will bounce right back as we have done repeatedly in the past.'

The remarks came amid government acknowledgement that an announcement on housing reform by Sir George Young, environment minister, which could have the effect of limiting some single mothers' access to council houses, had been postponed for 'presentational' reasons because of the spate of recent sex scandals - including the admission by Tim Yeo, the former minister, that he had had two children outside marriage.

But Downing Street was adamant that there had been no change of policy in the wake of the back to basics controversy.

Ministers are expected to stress that the changes - which will limit the priority that homeless families have to council housing as opposed to other accommodation - will not discriminate against single mothers.