Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Major in Blast at Thatcher as He Backs Ken

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Major in Blast at Thatcher as He Backs Ken

Article excerpt

Byline: CHARLES REISS;BEN LEAPMAN

THE CONSERVATIVE Party fell apart at the highest level today as former prime minister John Major backed Kenneth Clarke for the leadership - and accused his predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, of destroying his government.

He said Lady Thatcher - who yesterday announced her backing for Mr Clarke's rival Iain Duncan Smith - had incited Tory MPs to rebel against him over Europe. But his attack ranged far wider as he blamed her for obscuring his success over the economy.

He said that Tory sleaze, from cash-for-questions to arms for Iraq, began in her era, not his. He said she did "immense damage" and her disloyalty was "unprecedented".

Mr Major claimed that when she left office in 1990 she left a legacy of recession, unemployment, high interest rates and high inflation. The collision between the party's two most recent premiers propelled the current contest for the leadership to a new level of venom.

Significantly, Mr Major refused to promise his own loyalty if Iain Duncan Smith were to win. Asked whether he would give his support, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I will work to ensure a Conservative Government. But there is not going to be a Conservative Government unless it produces policies to bring back to the parties those millions who were repelled by the disputes, by the sleaze.

"That can only be done from the Centre-Right of politics, it cannot be done from the far Right of politics.

The purpose of the Conservative Party is to get back into government, not to return to its womb."

He warned that a party led by Mr Duncan Smith would be heading towards electoral disaster with any Tory MP with a majority below 10,000 at risk of losing their seat, leaving a tiny rump in the Commons.

On Lady Thatcher's disloyalty, he said: "It was pretty unprecedented to have a former prime minister encouraging new young Conservative MPs to vote against an existing Conservative government in the way that Margaret did.

"During the last Parliament, Iain was one of a number of colleagues who voted night after night with the Labour Party in the Labour lobby with the purpose of defeating the Conservative Government."

Mocking the group which he called the "Europhobics" within the Tory party, Mr Major said: "Youngsters these days don't put on their backpack and go to Southend when they finish their university degree.

They go around Europe, they work in Europe." Supporters of Mr Clarke hoped that the intervention from a senior figure still highly respected within the part, will help to get their campaign back on track.

It received a blow today with Continued from Page 1 reports that Mr Clarke may face a fresh Commons inquiry into his role in an alleged smuggling scandal at British American Tobacco, where he is the [pound]100,000a-year deputy chairman. …

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