Major puts emphasis on caring approach: Grassroots Tories rally round as Prime Minister responds to party critics with low-key appeal for unity and an end to 'diversions and squabbles'

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APPEALING for party unity, John Major yesterday warned supporters to end 'diversions and squabbles' and to concentrate on convincing the country that the Tories cared about the needs of ordinary people.

Sir Norman Fowler, the party chairman, and senior Cabinet colleagues united in rebutting Norman Lamont's attack on Mr Major's 'short-termism'.

The Prime Minister's fightback speech was delivered in low-key style but he was warmly supported by loyal Tories. 'We wanted to send out the message that we support him,' one Majorite said at the Welsh Party Conference in Llangollen.

Signalling a sharpening of his message, Mr Major said the priorities were jobs, a decent home, good education, medical care, and financial security in old age. These were the 'fundamental securities' that people in ordinary three-bedroomed semis wanted to hear. 'It is when these fundamental securities seem uprooted that most people feel most threatened, and right the way across Europe that has happened in recent years.

'We Conservatives care for these fundamental securities above all else. We must convey that message, that we understand and care about these fundamental matters, right back to the British people.

'Nothing is more important. Nothing is more pressing. Let me pass this message to everyone who wishes the Conservative Party well - no diversions, no squabbles. Let's get on with the job of passing back that message.'

His core values contrasted sharply with the laissez-faire approach of the Thatcher era which he described as 'cold bath time with a vengeance'. Mr Major said there were other leaders in the world who were 'shock horror - unpopular . . . there's a novelty for a politician'.

But recovery would not be sustained 'if we pile on taxes and social costs'. Mr Major added: 'We have no choice but to control public spending and restrain taxes . . . we will examine everything, we may discard many of the ways of saving if we think it will be unfair but overall we must save on public expenditure.' That message will please Tory right-wingers who have demanded that there are no tax rises in the next Budget, but it avoided tying the hands of Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor.

Sustaining the barrage against Mr Lamont without mentioning him by name, the party chairman told the Welsh Conservative Party conference: 'This government not only takes long-term decisions - it sticks to them.'

(Photograph omitted)

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