Parliament and Politics: Right-wingers target two more ministers: Some Tories are seeking a return to the 1981-88 policies of Mrs Thatcher. Colin Brown reports

Click to follow
AT LEAST two Cabinet ministers are being targeted by right-wingers as part of a campaign to force John Major back on to a Thatcherite course.

Senior Tory backbenchers told the Independent they wanted Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, and William Waldegrave, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, dropped from the Cabinet. Both are seen as 'wets' and poor performers. They want right-wing ministers, such as John Redwood, Minister for Local Government, to be promoted into the Cabinet to strengthen support for Thatcherite economic policies.

'There is no question of trying to get rid of Mr Major,' one senior member of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs said. 'But we want to see some of the cronies removed from the Cabinet. They are really the B-team.

'We want a return to the policies Mrs Thatcher followed from 1981 to 1988 and we have got three years to get it right in time for the next election.' Norman Lamont, the Chancellor, is not being challenged by the Thatcherites because they believe he will be out of office before the next election, and they fear that to remove him now would risk a worse replacement, such as Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary.

A Commons motion tabled which has now been signed by more than 70 Tory MPs underlines the determination of some on the right wing to force Mr Major at his most vulnerable moment back onto the Thatcherite economic straight and narrow of 'sound' money, low inflation, and low public spending.

The motion was tabled by Michael Spicer, a former minister and chairman of the anti-Maastricht group, who signed an earlier critical motion calling for a 'fresh start' after the Danish referendum rejection of the treaty.

Although it was inspired by opposition to the treaty and the Exchange Rate Mechanism, some of the leading Tory backbenchers who signed it are behind the demands for a return to Thatcherite economics.

That message was also delivered to Mr Major by the executive of the 1922 Committee on Thursday night. Mr Major is being confronted by a combination of the Thatcherite old guard, who want to settle old scores for her 'betrayal' and some members of the new intake of Tory MPs, who were inspired to enter politics by Mrs Thatcher.

Mr Major's support for Mr Mellor has led to a whispering campaign about his 'Cabinet cronies' which could do long-term damage to the Prime Minister. That phrase has gained widespread use among Tory MPs outside the Thatcherite wing.

However, those who have been targeted are not among Mr Major's closest friends. His closest friends, who helped his campaign for the leadership, include Mr Lamont, Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Employment, Lord Archer, Sir Norman Fowler, the party chairman, and Richard Ryder, the Government chief whip. There is also resentment at the 'Cambridge mafia', suspected of being promoted partly because of their connections with Cambridge and East Anglia, near the Prime Minister's Huntingdon constituency. They include Mr Ryder (Mid Norfolk), John MacGregor (Norfolk South), the Transport Secretary, and Mrs Shephard (Norfolk South West). It extends to Lord Archer, the novelist who owns the vicarage at Granchester Meadows, and Baroness Blatch, a minister in the Lords.

Mr Major's support for his friends is resented by the right wing because they feel Thatcherite candidates are being overlooked for preferment. The six Tories who sponsored the Commons motion are all firm Thatcherites. After Mr Spicer, they include four members of the 1922 executive: John Townend, the chairman of the backbench finance committee, Bob Dunn, Sir Rhodes Boyson, Sir George Gardiner, leader of the 92 Group of Thatcherite Tory MPs, and Bernard Jenkin, a Thatcherite member of the 1992 intake.