Tories were right to ditch leader, says Major

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Indy Politics

The Tories were right to ditch Iain Duncan Smith and replace him with Michael Howard, John Major said yesterday. The former prime minister also said the Conservatives could win the next general election, and Kenneth Clarke would return to Government if they did so.

In his first comments since Mr Duncan Smith was deposed, Mr Major said Mr Howard was "a real match for Tony Blair" and a "genuine alternative prime minister". Asked on BBC1's Breakfast with Frost whether his party had been right to dump its leader, Mr Major replied: "It's painful to say that, but I think the evidence of the past few days suggests that it was."

When Mr Duncan Smith fought Mr Clarke for the leadership in 2001, Mr Major had repeatedly warned of the dangers of electing a man who had rebelled against his own Government over the Maastricht Bill. Mr Major said Mr Clarke, who joins him with Michael Portillo and Mr Duncan Smith in a "council of wise men" advising the new leader, had been sensible not to join the Shadow Cabinet.

"After the election, if Michael wins, and I certainly think that is now a possibility, we can win this election. Nobody should write this election off; then Ken would be there to return to government, at a high level, I hope."

Mr Major had sympathy for Mr Duncan Smith. "It would be impossible not to feel sorry for the difficulties he faced," he said. "He faced them with dignity. He has left the beginnings of a big policy portfolio. He can be proud of that."

Mr Major said it was now possible under Mr Howard for the Tories to capitalise on Labour's difficulties. "If you look at the support the Labour Party had for a long time it was a mile wide but half an inch deep. They had a good economy, a clear parliamentary majority and one now has to look at the outcome," he said. "Is health better? I think not. Is education better? I think not. Is transport better? I think not."