Scottish Tories show leadership the red card: Sir Norman Fowler's rallying call goes unheeded in frustration over policies

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Indy Politics
SIR NORMAN FOWLER, the Conservative Party chairman, yesterday attempted to end any speculation of a challenge to John Major's leadership when he launched an emotional defence of the Prime Minister before the opening of the Scottish Tories' conference.

But his call for party unity went unheard by conference delegates angered by policies. One waved a 'red card for misbehaviour' at party leaders on the platform.

Speaking at a lunchtime gathering of Conservatives in Edinburgh, Sir Norman praised Mr Major's vision, reminding the party that 'we are only in government because of his leadership . . . He took us to victory in the hardest-fought election campaign in modern times'.

Maintaining that unity was the Conservatives' 'secret weapon', he said the party had to be united on principles, policies and 'united behind John Major'.

But hours after Sir Norman had finished speaking, his call for unity appeared to be in shreds. Opening the conference at Meadowbank in Edinburgh, Adrian Shinwell, the president, said the faithful were loyal 'but not blinkered, nor unthinking'. His comments were proven when speaker after speaker criticised key policies.

John Young, a Glasgow city councillor, branded the VAT changes on fuel bills as 'iniquitous', and pleaded with the Government to scrap plans to privatise the water and sewerage industry in Scotland.

Water is the dominant issue in Scottish politics. The Scottish Office claims that pounds 5bn is needed over the next decade to bring water up to EC standards. The reasoning is that if this is to be financed by government, other services will suffer. Mr Young challenged government arithmetic, saying local authorities could make ' pounds 4m a day by selling water to England'.

In the most blatant protest of the day, Mr Young then turned to the platform and said that in football, bad behaviour resulted in players being shown the red card and ordered off. He then produced a large red card, waved it towards the party leaders and blew a whistle.

It signalled the start of play for a succession of dissidents, and with the Chancellor, Norman Lamont, now on the platform awaiting his turn in the economy debate, the criticism grew louder.

Dr Clifford Lutton, a Leith GP, said Newbury had given the party a bloody nose. Without some changes, 'next month it will be a knock-down, and next year a knock-out'.

Neil Powrie, from Dundee, said that if the Government did not change its policies, future elections would be 'like lambs to the slaughter, and an ignominious death'.

(Photograph omitted)