McAlpine tells how Major begged for funds

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Indy Politics
John Major personally intervened to help secure a pounds 500,000 donation for the Conservative Party from an overseas businessman, according to a book by the former Tory treasurer Lord McAlpine.

He says that in 1991 the Prime Minister told him party funds were in a "desperate" state and asked him to extract a large donation from the "very generous" benefactor. Although he is not named in the book, Once a Jolly Bagman, it was reported in the Times that donor was the Greek shipping magnate John Latsis.

The revelation, this close to the election, that Mr Major was so intimately involved with fund-raising, especially from an overseas source, is likely to embarrass the Tory high command. The prime minister is normally assumed to keep a distance from such matters.

More embarrassment will be caused today by claims in a book by the former lobbyist Ian Greer that many MPs, mostly Tory, behaved "shamelessly" in seeking perks such as free flights on British Airways. Mr Greer, whose business collapsed after the cash-for-questions scandal, related how he complained to Tory whips on behalf of his client, BA, but was told nothing could be done without naming names.

Lord McAlpine, who also accuses Mr Major of being at the heart of a 1990 conspiracy to bring down Margaret Thatcher, tells how he met Mr Major at the latter's Commons office in 1991. "The party's funds were in a desperate state. A large donation would be most helpful. Would I see if I could persuade this man to make such a donation?"

He met the man next day and was "generously" given what turned out to be a bearer's bond for pounds 500,000, which was handed to Conservative Central Office.

In another extract from the book, to be published this month, Baroness Thatcher's confidant said: "What we realise now, but didn't realise at the time of the leadership election, is that John Major was involved with people who had made plans for him to be leader of the Conservative Party. John Major was often at Chequers ...pretending to be a pair of curtains. He made no impact on anyone there, he was just a figure in a crowd. `Why,' I was asked, `was John Major the man that Margaret Thatcher wished to succeed her?' The answer I gave was simple: she was merely trying to humiliate Geoffrey Howe, who was impatient for his turn."

But he suggested Sir Geoffrey was not the only cabinet member to harbour such ambition. "The mathematics of it all were so easy: if she had won a fourth election, it would have been at least another seven years before any of them had a turn at being prime minister."

Lord McAlpine, who has since switched to the Referendum Party, told of efforts by Thatcher allies to rally support after the first-round leadership ballot, in which she fell two votes short of the required majority. "It was a nasty moment for John Major when Margaret Thatcher put his hand to the fire by asking him to second her on the second ballot. His hesitation of a few moments on the telephone when asked ... speaks more than a thousand words."