Patten plays down talk of a Westminster return

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Chris Patten, the Governor of Hong Kong, last night cooled speculation he may be planning a comeback to Westminster politics next year, after the handover of the colony to China.

Mr Patten, who spent more than an hour with the Prime Minister in talks at Downing Street, was asked if the subject arose between the two.

He replied: "No. That was a negative no, rather than a positive no. The subject of my future didn't arise this afternoon, and I don't make a point of coming back to London and talking to the Prime Minister or others about my future."

During John Major's visit to the Far East last month, Mr Patten - the former Conservative Party chairman credited with masterminding the party's last general election victory - fuelled reports he may be looking for a key Cabinet role if the Tories win a fifth consecutive term.

He was widely reported to be missing the hothouse of Westminster politics and spoke of fond memories of briefings with lobby journalists in the same vein as "looking at Lord's cricket ground on a spring morning".

Mr Patten was asked yesterday if he had given the Prime Minister any advice about Conservative prospects at the next election.

He said: "I am governor of Hong Kong, I was in the past chairman of the Conservative Party and was full of good advice I hope. The best advice I can give the Prime Minister at present is that the cricket season is about to start."

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