At Downing Street yesterday, John Major and the Cabinet were confronted by party polling showing the Tories lagging behind Labour and agreed to step up their campaigning.
Senior Conservative sources said the strategy marked a break with the last elections, when the campaign under Baroness Thatcher appeared hostile to Europe. Party officials believe that led to low support among party workers.
The three leading Thatcherite Cabinet ministers, John Redwood, Peter Lilley and Michael Portillo, will be expected to 'sing from the same hymn sheet' as their Cabinet colleagues.
Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, said the party would be fighting for 'a decentralised, free enterprise, wider Europe and against a centralised, Socialist super- state'.
He also sought to head off fresh splits over the publication today of the federalist European manifesto of the European People's Party, the right- wing grouping to which Tory MEPs belong. In a letter to his MEPs, Mr Hurd described the links with the EPP as 'sensible'. He added: 'Much of it, we could support . . . other elements, we do not', such as its sections on a single currency and the Social Chapter of the Maastricht treaty.
Tory MPs are reporting disastrously low morale among supporters. Sir Norman Fowler, the party chairman, told the Cabinet that although the Government was low in the polls, the Tories had a double- figure lead on which party would stand up for Britain in Europe.
That finding may alarm pro- European Tory MPs, who are going to be warned not to go on holiday but to go all-out campaigning during the Whitsun recess of Parliament.
Party workers will be told that the European elections in June are crucial - but that could leave the leadership with no excuses if, as expected, the Tories lose heavily in the elections.
Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, will counter-attack Labour on taxation today.
Labour's plans for encouraging private finance in public services were welcomed at a Labour seminar by Sir Alastair Morton, chairman of the Chancellor's private finance panel. In a separate statement, Mr Clarke said the message had reached Labour's 'dinosaur brain' 15 years after the Government stamped on its tail.
However, John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, was last night still fighting to cut Treasury red tape to lease 100 tube trains for the Northern Line, known as the 'misery line', on the London Underground.Reuse content