Threat to deselect rebellious MPs

CONSERVATIVES should have no compunction about deselecting rebel MPs who persistently vote against the Government, the conference was told yesterday.

Against the background of the new-found rightward consensus on Europe and the need to line up behind John Major, angry representatives left backbench Maastricht rebels in no doubt that they had much to answer for.

In a clear message that revolts on the scale of those during the Maastricht Bill had undermined the party's fortunes and the morale of the rank and file, John Saunders, Bournemouth East, said: 'I am fed up to the back teeth with the small miserable group of MPs who vote against the Government time and time again. I will not give them further publicity by naming them. They know who they are.'

Invoking a driving instruction analogy he advised: 'Before opening mouth, engage brain', and urged representatives who felt strongly to 'deselect them next time'.

Elizabeth Gibson, Greater London, spoke of treachery, insisting: 'The Maastricht debate was fierce but it's over. There must be no more sniping from the disloyal, disillusioned few, however many of their own books they might want to sell. This is not why we work to put them in Parliament and they should remember that. But for party workers, they wouldn't be there at all. They have a duty to us all.'

In his closing address, Sir Norman Fowler, the party chairman, renewed the week's warnings that alongside the fight against federalism, fighting next year's European Parliament elections mattered. At home he spotlighted the threat from the Liberal Democrats, Labour, and for the first time 'another lot - who've never put their manifesto before the people, the Lib/Labs. We'll be attacking them too'.

The morning's debate, on party organisation and finances, attracted 61 requests to speak and a promise from Sir Norman of a pounds 250,000 fund to maintain agents in marginal seats. Of his attack on Conservative Central Office's finances, he said spending had been halved from more than pounds 12m a year to pounds 6m.

Sir Norman said agents were the party's 'foremost professional resource', but his initiative was later dismissed as cosmetic by Sharon Spiers, spokewoman for the Charter Movement, which campaigns for greater democracy and financial accountability. She said the pounds 250,000 was not new money and would only fund 10 agents.

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