The Conservative Party in Blackpool: Stamp of authority fails to dispel long-term doubts: Colin Brown samples the reaction from the audience at Blackpool

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR cemented his leadership, and ended the threat of any challenge for the time being, grassroots Tory supporters said after the Prime Minister's speech. But they left Blackpool with long-term doubts remaining about his position.

Party workers, clutching Union flags, were delighted by Mr Major's call for unity from his backbenchers. Cabinet ministers, including Kenneth Clarke, Michael Portillo, and Peter Lilley queued up before the television cameras to endorse the message that the Blackpool conference marked a turning point. John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, said: 'What is very clear from this conference is that the party is very united. What you have seen today is a vision of decency and integrity.'

The relaxed style of delivery impressed many of the rank-and-file. 'He is a serious thinking man. He is not a charisma cowboy,' said a Tory councillor, Trebor John Reeves of Stafford. 'It has cemented his leadership.'

'At the moment, any possibility of a stalking horse candidate has totally evaporated. That is now way behind him,' said Michael Fabricant, the Tory MP for Mid-Staffordshire.

Thatcherite ministers believe the Blackpool conference has marked a turn in their direction by the party, which was underlined by the Prime Minister's warning against European federalism, and his return to core values. 'It was the best speech he has made. It was just what we wanted to hear,' said one senior right-wing minister.

But the casual style of the speech disappointed some grassroots supporters, nostalgic for Lady Thatcher's barnstorming rhetoric. 'I don't think it did what it should have done which was to lift us and convince our belief in John Major,' said Rory Atkins, from Stroud.

Older Tory supporters came away as thrilled by Mr Major's speech as they had been with Lady Thatcher. 'It was brilliant,' said one Tory granny from Derbyshire. But Mr Major's future will depend on keeping his MPs solidly behind him. He appeared to have consolidated his position with the few who stayed in Blackpool to witness the end-of-conference rally.

However, the MPs are braced for the renewed onslaught this weekend when the first extracts from Lady Thatcher's memoirs are published. That could pick away at the cement before it has dried.