The Tories in Bournemouth: Heseltine defies Cabinet critics on Post Office sell-off

MICHAEL HESELTINE boldly used his platform speech to the conference to keep the privatisation of the Post Office on the Government's agenda, in spite of misgivings by John Major and senior Cabinet colleagues.

Risking deepening the split in the Cabinet, the President of the Board of Trade made it clear he intends to press for privatisation of the Post Office to be agreed by a Cabinet committee within the next fortnight, when he reports to Cabinet colleagues on the results of a consultation period.

He has the powerful backing of Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, for 51 per cent of the Post Office to be sold off. Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, also has been persuaded by Mr Heseltine to support a majority flotation.

But the Prime Minister and other senior Cabinet colleagues are wary of such a radical step. They include David Hunt, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Tony Newton, Leader of the House, who are advising consolidation, to rebuild the Government's popularity before the general election. Mr Heseltine repudiated their caution in a bravura performance: 'There are those who tell me that the best way for the Tories to win the next election is to slow the pace, to ease the pressure to opt for the quiet life. I disagree,' he said.

The Chief Whip, Richard Ryder, has told the Cabinet that there are seven potential Tory rebels, enough to wipe out the Government's 14-seat majority. The Ulster Unionists have threatened to oppose the Government, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats, if a majority sell-off is proposed.

This could force Mr Heseltine to accept a compromise, for privatisation, but with the Government retaining a majority shareholding until a later flotation.

The Treasury is arguing that such a compromise would inhibit the ability of the Royal Mail to compete commercially with other delivery services. But Mr Heseltine made it clear he was still opposed to the least radical option raised in the Post Office green paper, proposing commercialisation without privatisation, which is supported by Labour.

His close friends said he was helped by the right-wing Portillo supporters in the hall who cheered the privatisation plans, when Mr Heseltine had feared there might be heckling from grass-roots Tories who are worried that privatisation could force village sub-post offices to close.

Mr Heseltine devoted one fifth of his speech to reassuring Tory voters that privatisation would not destroy the sub-post offices. He emphasised that the main aim was to privatise Royal Mail services, not the sub-post offices, which were already available for sale.

Flourishing a copy of Dalton's Weekly, advertising post offices for sale, Mr Heseltine said the only change he wished to implement for the sub-post offices was to lift the constraints on them selling more services. That was supported by the Federation of Sub-Postmasters.

'We are determined to maintain universal delivery at a standard price wherever you live. We have given an explicit pledge to maintain a nationwide network of post offices. These would be strictly enforced by a tough independent regulator,' he added.

The Royal Mail was losing market share to private and foreign competitors and wanted to fight back, said Mr Heseltine, who won a standing ovation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Smart phones, dumb reading: Rebecca and Harry from ‘Teens’
tv
News
people
News
Amazon's drones were unveiled last year.
business
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Life and Style
Worth shelling out for: Atlantic lobsters are especially meaty
food + drink
Sport
Gareth Bale
footballPaul Scholes on how Real Madrid's Welsh winger would be a perfect fit at Old Trafford if he leaves Spain
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£14000 - £37500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting and technically challe...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Motor Mechanic / Technician / MOT Tester - Oundle

£11 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Small friendly Ford dealership based i...

Recruitment Genius: Development Worker

£18300 - £20300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss