The Government in Crisis: Officials talk publicly of grassroots fears: Tory activists are uneasy about the infighting. Martin Whitfield reports

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(First Edition)

TORY constituency chairmen are now expressing public concern over the crisis within the party.

In private, they are heavily critical of John Major's handling of the Maastricht rebellion. They also stress the need for urgent initiatives to deal with the recession. In public, they are now going beyond coded messages that the leadership must take a firmer grip.

Tricia Rose, chairman of St Albans constituency association, whose MP is Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, said its members were split over Maastricht. 'What people are saying, and I would agree with them, is that this is not an issue about which to call a general election. We will support our government all the way - but do not threaten to call people's bluff in the process. We don't want a Ted Heath exercise,' she said, in reference to the Tory defeat in 1974 when Mr Heath went to the country after a miners' strike.

David Crossman, from Michael Heseltine's Henley constituency, said party members were demanding a clarification of economic policy following the withdrawal from the exchange rate mechanism. 'People are extremely worried by what is going on. They want to see a clearer policy lead.'

Others confirmed a general view that a visible improvement in the economy would calm frayed party nerves. John Jones, chairman of the Oxford West and Abingdon consitutency of John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, said: 'John Major has got the best possible deal on Maastricht. It has been a hell of a hot potato for him and has not been helped by all the speculation.'

Robert Yeudall, chairman of the Folkestone consitutency of Michael Howard, the Secretary of State for the Environment, said opponents of closer links with Europe did not find much support there: 'In Folkestone, we are so close to the Continent that we feel we are part of it.'