Which way should I vote next week?

Ivan Lawrence is Euro-sceptic but rock solid for John Major
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The Independent Online
I am a dedicated Euro-sceptic - and I am backing John Major for the Tory leadership.

Since I want to see my party win the next general election and I believe that most people want to see Britain and its laws remain the province of a British parliament and British Courts, I consider that I have little choice in the matter. John Major is our best chance of achieving both these ends.

Why? Because I believe he is more likely to unite the party and the country than anyone else. The natural Conservative supporters who stayed at home in their droves in the recent local elections want to see us fighting Labour, not ourselves. We cannot expect to win a fifth general election if we have removed a second prime minister in six years.

I know that our public opinion ratings are at an all-time low, but that is because we are so busy slipping on banana skins and delighting the media, and our ministers are so busy running their departments and attending Euro-conferences that we do not do enough to focus public attention on our remarkable successes. In the economy, where we have a combination of growth and low inflation unheard of since the war. In the NHS, where splendid new hospitals like that in my constituency of Burton treat thousands more patients with less delay and daily improved life expectancy. In education, where standards are rising and one in three school leavers now go on to higher education. In Northern Ireland, where the ceasefire may well lead to peace. International investment in Britain is at an all-time high and ours is increasingly a country where people seek to come and settle and to educate their children. John Major as Prime Minister is responsible for most of this.

To dump a man so respected and liked for his decency, straightforwardness and lack of arrogance, with his experience of government and leadership, for Labour's new lightweight who has merely mastered the sound-bite is, for many, quite unthinkable.

There could be no greater tribute to John Major's success than that Labour, convinced of their unelectability, have decided to reject the policies which they have always believed in so passionately - like nationalisation, municipal housing, unilateral nuclear disarmament and totally comprehensive education - and have decided to embrace the principles and practices of his government's Conservatism.

On the issue of Europe, I read the matter thus. John Major has always claimed to be Euro-sceptic: yes to remaining at the heart of Europe, but no to the federated, centralised superstate. I believe him.

It is true that he has been mild in assertion of this scepticism. But that is because he has considered himself between a rock and a hard place. Outstanding ministers like Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine do not share his scepticism, but he does not want to lose them. Nor does he want to alienate our European partners by doing more than retaining his opt- out from the single currency. There may be something to be said for that approach, but it is unlikely to win us the support of a Euro-sceptical nation at the next election.

Now the leadership election provides an opportunity for a less equivocal posture - provided John Major wins the first round of the contest handsomely. For with his authority strengthened, he will be able more boldly to restructure his government and policies with a more positive and practical Euro-scepticism. The resignation of Douglas Hurd at the Foreign Office provides a generous opportunity for such action.

Excellent as John Redwood may have been as Conservative philosopher and Secretary of State for Wales, I cannot see him more than wounding John Major. If the wound is grave, the Prime Minister will step down - as his predecessor did - and a battle between Michael Heseltine and either John Redwood or Michael Portillo will go where the charisma is greater. We are far less likely to win the election at the hands of an over-whelmingly Euro-sceptic nation if our leader is such a Euro-enthusiast.

For these reasons - more than for just loyalty's sake - I, a dedicated Euro-sceptic, will back John Major to the hilt. I hope to goodness that he wins.

The writer is MP for Burton