The Maastricht Debate: Waverers met with more subtle methods: The Whips: Ministers and MPs are brought in from sick beds to take part in vital vote

THE SIGNAL that the Government was in trouble came at 7.55pm when Michael Heseltine, recovering from a heart attack, was taken from his London home for the knife-edge votes in the Commons, writes Colin Brown.

John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, suffering from an intestinal illness, was later brought to the Commons in an ambulance to be 'nodded through' by one of the Government whips.

Labour also was forced to bring two of its backbenchers from their sick beds. Bob Parry, the MP for Liverpool Riverside, recovering from a quadruple heart by-pass operation, and Rachel Squire, the MP for Dunfirmline West, who is recovering from illness, were brought down for the vote.

The Government whips rushed around the corridors pressing wavering Tories to support the Government. But they abandoned their 'thumb screws' for vintage claret. Leading up to the Prime Minister's appeal for party unity, the whips worked hard all day on their lists of Tory MPs known to be unhappy about passing the Maastricht Bill. Toby Jessel, who had voted against the Government during the passage of the Bill, was escorted by one of the whips to see Richard Ryder, the Chief Whip, in his room off the members' chamber. Seconds later, another whip rushed into the room with a bottle of claret. 'They are using more subtle pressure this time,' one rebel organiser said.

The Prime Minister, who had met some waverers in one-to-one meetings, applied more pressure in his speech to the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs. It failed to persuade the die-hards but it impressed some Thatcherites who have proved a thorn in John Major's side. 'It was Thatcheresque,' one rightwinger said. 'He said we needed to return to classic Tory principles.

'He didn't indulge in the babyish talk about his leadership being on the line, which we had last time. Most of us feel we've had enough of Maastricht. It's like food, wine and sex. You get tired of it.'

Frank Dobson, a member of the Shadow Cabinet, accused the whips of scraping the pork barrel. 'We have heard the Tories have channelled parliamentary consultancies through the whips office so they are handed out to those on whom the whips smile. This could mean pounds 5,000 or pounds 10,000 bonuses for loyalty. There could also be knighthoods in the New Year's Honours.'

The whips did not pressurise the die-hard rebels, although some were amused to hear that David Lightbown, an assistant whip, had told Bill Cash, a leading anti-Maastricht campaigner, 'You're in with some dodgy people'.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border