John Major bowled over by MCC's refusal to appoint him to committee

It was never like this when he stood for Lambeth Borough Council, nor indeed for the leadership of the Conservative Party, and as for the countless General Elections that the Right Hon John Major has contested over the last quarter of a century or so, they were all conducted with a straight bat.

It was never like this when he stood for Lambeth Borough Council, nor indeed for the leadership of the Conservative Party, and as for the countless General Elections that the Right Hon John Major has contested over the last quarter of a century or so, they were all conducted with a straight bat.

But this is something different. This is just not cricket. Perhaps the former Prime Minister thought election to the eight-strong committee of the Marylebone Cricket Club would be something of a formality. Well, he can think again.

No matter that he was invited to stand by MCC president Lord Alexander, the former chairman of NatWest Bank, or seconded by the club's chairman, Sir Michael Jenkins, to fill one of four vacancies at Lord's.

Mr Major's nomination papers had no sooner arrived in St John's Wood than he found himself at the wrong end of an epistolary bouncer. Dr Nigel Knott, a member of several MCC working parties and a long-standing campaigner for MCC reform, recently fired off a stinging letter to Mr Major.

In it, Dr Knott wrote of an "obvious conflict of interest" with any role Mr Major might hold for MCC because of his presidency of Surrey CCC. According to his letter, Dr Knott claims he is aware of the former Prime Minister's wish to see the Oval, home of Surrey, as the premier Test match ground in the country. And his letter concluded: "I respectfully request you to reconsider your position."

In a subsequent letter, Dr Knott, who is also standing for election to the committee, offered to stand down if Mr Major did the same.

Mr Major had responded initially with a letter signed by his private secretary Arabella Warburton, which stated: "Membership of the MCC committee is ... a matter for its members and the ballot will no doubt reflect whether or not others share the views you express."

Then yesterday he said: "If I thought for one moment that there would be a conflict of interest I would not have accepted the invitation to stand."

Surrey chief executive Paul Sheldon broke off from his holiday to say: "Mr Major did talk to me and others at Surrey, but as far as everyone is concerned, if Mr Major can contribute to the betterment of cricket then he is welcome to put in his two penn'orth wherever he can."

But a minor point in this major row is that Dr Knott's principle objection is based on a false premise. Mr Major's term of office as Surrey president ends in April next year, and were he to be elected to the MCC committee he would not take up office until October 2001 - ergo, no conflict of interest.

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