Major wanted Patten to dethrone Hague as leader, book claims

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John Major wanted Chris Patten, who lost his seat in the 1992 election, to return to Parliament to challenge William Hague for the leadership of the Conservative Party, a book has claimed.

John Major wanted Chris Patten, who lost his seat in the 1992 election, to return to Parliament to challenge William Hague for the leadership of the Conservative Party, a book has claimed.

The Journals of Woodrow Wyatt to be published next week, Mr Major was so worried about the "dreadful, overdone, right-wing stuff" expressed by Mr Hague that he wanted his old friend Mr Patten to resurrect his Westminster career.

The revelations, which are guaranteed to embarrass the Tory leader, lay bare for the first time the extent of Mr Major's unhappiness at the lurch to the right taken by his successor. The late Lord Wyatt of Weeford's memoirs will claim that the former prime minister was plotting against Mr Hague within weeks of his election as Tory leader in June 1997.

However, a spokeswoman for Mr Major disputed the account. She said that he had not decided to stand down until this year and that he would have had no influence over the selection of his successor as MP. "He's wanted Chris back in politics as he is a great friend of his. He's a great political performer. He would have liked to see Chris back in the Commons, but probably alongside him as an MP," she said.

The book says Mr Major attended a dinner with Lord Wyatt on 16 July that year, less than four weeks after Mr Hague defeated Kenneth Clarke for the party leadership.Mr Major made clear he wanted to give up his safe seat of Huntingdon and its 18,000 majority to allow Mr Patten to return to Parliament and launch a challenge to Mr Hague.

The entry in Lord Wyatt's diaries for 166 July, 1997, states: "He will give up Huntingdon to let Chris Patten in. 'He's my best friend'. John said: 'I don't want this dreadful, right-wing stuff all the time. I want someone to lead from the centre where it is best to be.'

"I thought Hague was pretty ghastly. John said he would get Patten back in the House to challenge him ... John said he wanted Patten to be Prime Minister and he would resign at the appropriate moment, possibly going to the Lords. He might not even do that."

Mr Patten, now one of the UK's European Commissioners, masterminded Mr Major's unexpected 1992 general election win as party chairman. But Mr Patten lost his seat of Bath and was posted to Hong Kong as Governor, where he oversaw the colony's handover to China.

But many Tories believe Mr Patten has been too close to New Labour and Tony Blair's attempts to attract Europhile Tories in a pro-euro campaign.

The former party chairman was chosen by Mr Blair to chair an inquiry into policing in Northern Ireland, which concluded that the Royal Ulster Constabulary should lose its name as part of major reforms.

Mr Major issued a coded warning to his successor to be more "inclusive" at this year's Tory party conference in Bournemouth. Despite several denials that he would step down at the next election, Mr Major announced his retirement from Westminster earlier this year. A hardline Eurosceptic has been chosen to succeed him.

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