Major sets the press agenda before lunch in Lincolnshire

JOHN MAJOR turned to his aides and asked expectantly: 'Has Stella done her photo-call yet?' writes Malcolm Pithers.

While Mrs Rimington, the head of MI5, held her open day in London, the Prime Minister pressed on with a slightly less open agenda in Lincolnshire, fielding or fending off questions about his leadership, Maastricht, pit closures, the Christchurch by-election and the recession.

Mr Major opened a new pounds 264m production building at Ciba's Grimsby plant and then went on to meet the party faithful at a private lunch in the village of Branston, near Lincoln.

On Maastricht, he reiterated that he did not anticipate losing next week's crucial vote in the Commons. 'The Social Chapter would be very damaging to this country. It would cost us jobs, competitiveness and do damage to the future of many people,' he said.

He chose to be interviewed by regional TV crews but wanted to know the likely batting order of their questions. Could he be asked about the forthcoming by-election? 'You really are wasting your time,' he told the BBC.

So too were the programme planners at Yorkshire TV who had asked their reporter to politely request the Prime Minister to sing or say the opening lines of 'Ilkley Moor' for Yorkshire Day. Mr Major replied: 'I think in the present climate that is not a good idea.'

(Photograph omitted)

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