The European Elections: Thorny questions among the roses

Click to follow
The Independent Online
First Edition

'PERHAPS he's found a new cure for woolly aphids,' one of the lobby journalists said as we waited outside the back gate to Downing Street for John Major's first press conference in the garden, writes Colin Brown.

'Maybe he has decided to resign after all,' another suggested. Mr Major summoned the Westminster lobby to his back garden for a new, more relaxed attempt at trying to get across his message. It was the outdoor equivalent of the fireside chat.

Gilt chairs with plush red seats had been set out on the neatly clipped lawn in front of the rose beds. 'Don't walk on the edges,' a police officer said.

There was no sign of Humphrey, the Downing Street cat recently alleged to have removed a nest of robins from the premises, but a blackbird screeched a warning into the bushes.

The Prime Minister looked relaxed, although he kept his jacket on in spite of the warm summer sun, as he answered half an hour of questions.

The message he wanted to get across was that in spite of the poor showing he was staying to fight. That brought a cheer from workers on the other side of the wall.

Mr Major borrowed the idea of the garden press conference from Bill Clinton at the White House. He had been considering it for two years, but, like Britain's entry to the ERM, the timing had never seemed right until yesterday.

'He is genuinely in a rather good mood,' one senior Tory source said. 'He very much took a big personal risk putting himself at the front of this campaign against all the projections of meltdown, a Canadian-style wipe-out. We have done better than expected. He feels in a very good mood and wants to go out and capitalise on that.

'It was his decision. It may be more than a one off and he wanted to start at a time where he feels he has some news.'

Before disappearing through the French windows, Mr Major had a word of advice for Tony Blair, Labour's heir apparent, about his honeymoon with the press. 'Don't believe what they say about you now . . . and don't believe what they say in 18 months.'