Party chiefs in quandary over Lamont

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 March, 1995, 12:00am

CONSERVATIVE Party chiefs yesterday faced the dilemma of whether to remove former chancellor Norman Lamont from the parliamentary party for voting against the Government on Europe and thus risk damaging Prime Minister John Major's shaky majority, or to let him remain.

Mr Lamont spent yesterday defending his surprise decision to vote against the Government on Wednesday night, while the nine other Euro-rebels who have already had the party whip removed either voted for the Government or abstained.

Mr Major scraped home with a majority of just five on a Labour motion condemning the Government's policies on Europe.

The nine Ulster Unionists carried out their threat to vote against the Government in protest at the Anglo-Irish framework document on the future of Northern Ireland.

Yesterday, Mr Lamont was unrepentant about his action, which could hardly have been more wounding to his former close colleague John Major.

He was convinced Britain's entry into a single European currency would lead to European political union, and did not believe the Prime Minister's assurances. When Mr Major failed to answer that point, Mr Lamont said he had no alternative but to state his case and vote against the Government. 'I have been attempting for some months to spell out intelligently the issues which relate to this matter and which I feel extremely strongly about,' he said yesterday.

'Now when one finds that one's arguments and one's words have no effect sometimes it is necessary to make people sit up.' He denied stabbing Mr Major in the back but said he felt it was necessary to continue arguing his position. His unexpected action has sent shockwaves through the party.

The dilemma for party managers is if they withdraw the whip from Mr Lamont it will not only make his position more precarious but give the rebels a more prominent leader.

But if he is allowed to keep the whip Mr Lamont could find himself under pressure form the Conservative right to become a stalking horse in a leadership challenge this autumn.

Mr Lamont's Kingston constituency is due to disappear soon under boundary changes - and, after a revolt like this, he seems unlikely to be offered another chance to be a Conservative MP elsewhere.