Yeo keeps talking as colleagues urge silence: Former minister attacks constituent

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The Independent Online
TIM YEO appeared intent on driving more nails into his political coffin yesterday, agreeing to be interviewed by a Sunday newspaper, despite advice from parliamentary colleagues that no more should be said about his enforced resignation.

At the close of a week that saw Mr Yeo claim the press had driven him out of office, reporters and a photographer from the Mail on Sunday were yesterday morning invited into the former environment minister's home in Pimlico, south-west London.

Hours earlier he delivered an outspoken attack through the columns of the Daily Express on a leading local constituent, Aldine Horrigan, mayor of Haverhill, Suffolk, accusing her of leading the campaign to oust him.

Colin Spalding, Haverhill branch chairman, said the MP had spoken of building bridges with his constituency. 'This is the first bridge he has come to, and he's blown it sky high.'

The spectacle of the deposed minister's views appearing in the tabloid press is bound to mean more embarrassment for John Major, who is scheduled to be interviewed on television tomorrow morning.

Mr Yeo has also raised the spectre of another deeply embarrassing Commons resignation statement - the fourth in John Major's administration - although a source close to the former minister said that a final decision on that has been deferred until after the weekend. If he goes ahead he may well seek to time it for Tuesday afternoon, following 1994's first Prime Minister's Questions, when television coverage is guaranteed.

Such timing, however, would allow Opposition MPs maximum opportunity to pour more scorn on 'back to basics'. Senior Tories said yesterday that a Commons statement by Mr Yeo would be a mistake, and that the saga should have ended with the resignation.

A source said the former minister, who qualifies for a pounds 5,277 severance payment, will not accept cash for the newspaper interview, which lasted an hour and 20 minutes.

Thursday's interview with the Express was a spur-of-the moment decision, which Mr Yeo may live to regret.

Next Friday, he faces the executive council of his Suffolk South constituency association, about 150 members representing 40 branches and a number of political and minority committees. One senior officer said: 'His comments will probably result in him getting a rougher ride.' A Suffolk South executive committee member, who declined to be named, said: 'We expect our MP to be above throwing mud at his constituents.'

Brian Tooke, president of the constituency association, appeared disappointed with Mr Yeo's outburst but resisted direct criticism.

'Firstly, I believe Mrs Horrigan's early criticism of Mr Yeo was a knee-jerk reaction,' he said. 'Secondly, bearing in mind the statement (demonstrating a lack of support for Mr Yeo) issued this week by the executive committee was unanimous, the course of events would not appear to have been affected by her comments. Thirdly, it would now be better if there were no comments from any quarter.'