Theresa May, the shadow Transport Secretary, was accused last night of blowing the Tories' biggest chance of forcing a minister to resign.
Mrs May presented the case for the prosecution against Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Transport. But one relieved Labour MP said afterwards: "She acted more like a solicitor than a barrister."
The centrepiece of Mrs May's speech was a long list of prepared questions about the details of the Sixsmith affair. But she failed to latch on to Mr Byers' admission that he had misled viewers of ITV's Dimbleby programme. Instead Mrs May ploughed on in the face of a growing crescendo of Labour derision, claiming he was giving "one impression when the reality was very different".
Her parting-shot was to repeat the frequent Tory cry for Mr Byers to resign over the affair. She said: "Let him now salvage something from his shattered reputation, give the department the fresh start it needs and go now."
Mr Byers was cheered by his own MPs when he ridiculed her for a speech rehearsed before his own statement.
Labour backbenchers and spin doctors alike claimed it was a crucial factor in rallying support behind Mr Byers.
But Tory Central Office said last night that she had faced an impossible task and had already forced a series of damaging admissions from the Government.Reuse content