The Feuds - Bickering of the bitter old Tories threatens Hague

Tory Party Conference
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Indy Politics

THE DINOSAURS of the Tory Party - John Major, Baroness Thatcher and Lord Lamont - yesterday emerged to settle old and bitter scores, overshadowing William Hague's crucial fight-back conference.

THE DINOSAURS of the Tory Party - John Major, Baroness Thatcher and Lord Lamont - yesterday emerged to settle old and bitter scores, overshadowing William Hague's crucial fight-back conference.

Mr Major's anger at being undermined by Lady Thatcher spilled out as he accused the former prime minister of having a split personality and of possessing "warrior characteristics" which were "profoundly un-Conservative".

Lady Thatcher, who will hold her first fringe meeting at a Tory conference for 25 years, against the deportation of Chile's former dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, vigorously denied as "malicious rubbish" reports that she was privately undermining Mr Hague's leadership of the Tory Party or that she had referred to him as "wee Willie".

Her spokesman said: "Lady Thatcher supports William Hague more strongly now than at any point in his leadership... She is closer to him now than at any other time. The strength of this support will become clear during the coming week."

Lady Thatcher was equally dismissive of the memoirs of her successor Mr Major, now being serialised in The Sunday Times. "She has not looked at that," her spokesman said.

Tory officials were last night trying to play down suggestions that the conference would be upstaged by senior figures from the previous government fighting old battles.

"It may be interesting to students of post-war political history but it is not what this week is about," one senior source said. But with Europe looming large this week, the scabs have been torn off the old Tory wounds by the two former prime ministers.

And it is unlikely that Lady Thatcher is going to remain relaxed about Mr Major's account. He confirms for the first time her suspicion that he delayed signing her nomination papers to stand against the leadership challenge by Michael Heseltine. Mr Major admits that Lord Lamont, his campaign manager for the leadership, began canvassing for him five days before the first ballot, without his approval.

"In her memoirs, Margaret [Thatcher] says my 'hesitation was palpable'. It was, but not because I was thinking of my own position. I was ready to second her, but I would have liked to have discussed her prospects and campaign strategy before she committed herself. But Margaret was peremptory and I despaired at her style, even as I pledged my support."

In the most damaging admission, Mr Major discloses that he sent his own secret nomination papers to run for the leadership in the same car as the nomination papers he had signed for Lady Thatcher. They were taken by Jeffrey Archer's chauffeur from Mr Major's sickbed after he had undergone surgery for a wisdom tooth.

He was persuaded by his parliamentary aide, Graham Bright, to sign the forms putting his name forward if she failed to win. "Norma [his wife] typed out a second document as a fail-safe, advising Cranley Onslow, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, that I was prepared to let my name go forward. I asked Jeffrey's driver to wait for a while - and he did, for two hours, eating dinner - until Peter Morrison, her PPS, telephoned me and told me it was almost certain she would withdraw from the contest the next morning."

His admission will be seen by Lady Thatcher's admirers as evidence that he was involved in the conspiracy to bring her down. He also graphically describes her as almost unhinged after displaying clear signs of having a split personality.

"After 10 years in power she began to lose the knack of keeping the two sides of her personality bolted together. It can be a terrible error to argue straight from your emotional bedrock, but the Prime Minister was beginning to do so.

"Like a shorting circuit she flicked and crackled. Intermittently the lamp of European statesmanship still glowed; then - fssst! - a shower of vivid commentary would light up the Margaret who attracted the last- ditch Englander. And it all came crashing down."

He adds: "These two Margarets co-existed for most of her premiership."

Amid more settling of scores, Lord Lamont claimed that he been kept waiting, angrily, outside the cabinet room in No 10 on Black Wednesday, when Britain was forced out of the exchange rate mechanism, hinting at rumours that Mr Major had been unable to cope with the crisis.

Mr Major's friends, including his former press secretary, Sheila Gunn, said yesterday that they did not believe Lord Lamont's account. She said that the bitterness of the former chancellor emerged from his memoirs.

Other old enemies made Mr Major look foolish by describing for the first time how he hid in a cupboard inside No 10 after the IRA had attacked Downing Street with mortar bombs.

"We were all in shock but Richard Ryder, who was then the chief whip, got it into his head that he must save the Prime Minister. Richard leapt to his feet and grabbed John Major by his jacket and... dragged John into a large cupboard and shut the door on him," according to a Sunday Telegraph source. Mr Major remained in the cupboard, it was said, until someone asked: "Where is the Prime Minister?"

Mr Major is steering clear of the conference, claiming that he has other pressing business, celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife, Norma. His remarks about Lady Thatcher are likely to rumble on through the week, as she makes her rare appearance on the conference fringe on Wednesday.

In office Mr Major was regarded as a grey man, with language to match. His memoirs at times read like a racy novel. Lady Thatcher's downfall, he says, was caused by her refusal to bend on Europe or the poll tax. "Overall, the Prime Minister was undeniably 'on board' the European train, even though she was uneasy... The trouble was there was another Margaret, usually confined to private quarters, whose gut reaction was much more hostile to Europe."

He says she shared the view of the late Nicholas Ridley: "Never trust the Germans." The dinosaurs stalking Hague

John Major

He is absent, having dropped his memoirs like a smelly dinosaur egg on the party. Is settling scores with Baroness Thatcher and what he describes as her split personality - 'like a shorting circuit, she flickered and crackled... and then it all came crashing down'.

Dino rating: Just too polite to draw any blood in buckets.

Baroness Thatcher

Celebrating her 74th birthday next week, will be on the rampage at this week's Tory conference, with a fringe meeting in support of Chile's former dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, on Wednesday. Her followers will make it look like a Nuremberg rally.

Dino rating: Once she gets her claws in, never lets go.

Lord Lamont

Got retaliation in first, with his memoirs serialised before John Major's. Sounds more bitter, accusing Major of refusing to see him for 30 crucial minutes on Black Wednesday, hinting that he could not cope. Old friends, they have not spoken since Major sacked him in 1993.

Dino rating: Slippery but too accident- prone to damage anyone but himself.

Michael Heseltine

Prince who failed to get the crown because he wielded the knife that brought Baroness Thatcher down. Once conference's darling, he is now campaigning for Britain in Europe with Kenneth Clarke and Tony Blair, while claiming loyalty to the Conservative Party's middle way.

Dino rating: Old fires have burnt out; but can still rally the moderates.

Lord Howe

The 'dead sheep' whose bite became lethal for Baroness Thatcher in his memorable resignation speech. He was ousted as foreign secretary to make way for John Major when his star was rising under Thatcher. Major admits he was promoted too fast.

Dino rating: Looks dead but suddenly bites back; potentially lethal.

Sir Edward Heath

Former prime minister, who once heard Hitler address a Nuremberg rally, is longest-serving MP. Hates Baroness Thatcher so much he will not contemplate going to Lords while she is there. Usually keeps up a brooding presence at Riverhouse hotel, outside Blackpool.

Dino rating: He is a pussy-cat; the claws have been drawn.