JUST HOW much woe has Tim Yeo and his (second) illegitimate child brought to the Government and the Conservative Party at large? A large Lamont-style crisis? A medium Mellor-type crisis? A little local difficulty of the Michael Mates variety? A good rule of thumb is to look to the Conservative press. If the Conservative press decides that the Government is in trouble, then trouble is indeed what the Government is in - first because Tory newspapers articulate popular Tory feeling more surely and instinctively than John Major and his dwindling supporters; second because Tory newspapers always mean trouble for Conservative administrations when they fall out of love with them. These days one of the familiar morning sounds in Downing Street is said to be Prime Ministerial gnashing and wailing at the sight of the Sun and the Times and the Mail. That is the sound of crisis, and it will be renewed this morning when the Sundays are placed next to the orange juice and Mr Major turns to their coverage of Alan Duncan's resignation and whatever other slings and poisoned arrows they may bring. Last month's visionary peace-maker is this month's political mediocrity at the bottom of the pit.
Mr Major's troubles are richly deserved. He and his Cabinet played a dangerous, desperate card at the last Tory conference when they embarked on their moral crusade: glass houses, large bricks. Last week the Prime Minister tried to distance himself from the Redwood-Lilley-Howard faction by separating personal morality from social policy, and predictably botched it. Whenever he begins to talk about ideas, he gives the impression of a man to whom, as to Ronald Reagan, ideas are merely a rumour.
'Back to basics', 'family values' - these mean what the Tory Party in South Suffolk take them to mean, or they mean nothing at all. Mr Major faces a tough year of unpopular tax rises and local and Euro elections. It may take Gerry Adams to save him.