Major rallies Tory troops for spring election

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Indy Politics
The Prime Minister issued a rallying call last night for a May 1997 election as he urged a meeting of Conservative MPs to show discipline "every day" between now and then.

"It is time to stop being bystanders and commentators and time to become advocates for what we passionately believe, because we love our country and want it to succeed," he told a crowded meeting of backbenchers and ministers at Westminster. "Don't book a holiday next spring," he told them.

The Cabinet earlier agreed dates for the Queen's Speech, setting out the pre-election legislative programme, on 23 October, and the Budget, on 26 November, the milestones in the "long campaign".

But by playing it long the Government could be facing discontent from thousands of public-sector workers who will be told this winter that they can only expect pay increases if they are paid for by efficiency savings or other economies as part of the strategy to cut spending to make room for tax cuts in the Budget. Some public-sector unions were warning of trouble ahead if they have to settle for rises of 2-3 per cent while MPs enjoy rises of 26 per cent. And John Major's announcement of the pay freeze prompted angry calls of "hypocrisy" in the Commons.

However, Mr Major's end-of-term address to the 1922 Committee drew desk- banging approval when he declared: "The Labour Party doesn't have a single policy borne out of strong conviction - everything is borne out of what would resonate with the electorate on a daily basis."

He said: "We must win the hearts and minds of the 14 million people who voted Tory last time ... and ask every day, 'Have I done something today to help win the election?' and 'Have I avoided doing anything today which would increase the risk of losing?'"

The Chancellor will reinforce the message for pay restraint in letters to the pay review bodies. The Cabinet agreed to fix a public-spending ceiling of pounds 268bn for next year but gave the Chancellor's Cabinet EDX committee on expenditure a remit to come under that figure if possible.

One senior Cabinet source said there would be a full package of bills in the Queen's Speech. The Cabinet also agreed to a "rigorous scrutiny", Downing Street said in a statement. "They determined that spending should be capped within the tightest possible limits."