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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Major Hit By Party Member Defection

LONDON -- Prime Minister John Major vowed Friday his government would soldier on for another year despite the shock defection of a Conservative member of parliament, the third to leave the ruling party in four months.


Peter Thurnham said he will sit as an independent, dealing a heavy blow to Major by cutting his majority to just two ahead of an important parliamentary vote Monday on government probity.


Major said he was "saddened and disappointed" by Thurnham's move. But it made no difference to his determination to wait until the last possible date in May 1997 before calling a general election.


"I always expected to go right through until 1997," he said.


Conservative Member of Parliament Sir Teddy Taylor predicted Major, whose party is down more than 20 points in opinion polls, would be forced into an election in October. Bookmakers Ladbrokes cut the odds on an election in 1996 to 11-8 from 2-1.


Thurnham, in parliament for 13 years, said he had been affronted by "malpractices within the Conservative Party." He announced his defection after Major failed to persuade him to stay loyal in lengthy talks Thursday.


"I don't quite know what happened after I finished my meeting," Major told reporters Friday.


Thurnham's decision placed in the balance the government's chances of winning Monday's vote on a report into sales of British arms-making equipment to Iraq in the 1980s. The report by a senior judge severely criticized two senior ministers.


Thurnham said he was "very inclined to vote against" the government following the debate. He said the bungling and top-level maneuvering highlighted by the report had triggered his defection.


At least two Conservative MPs are considering deserting Major in the vote, but he may get support from Protestant Ulster Unionists. If he loses, he may call a vote of confidence.


Thurnham's move follows defections by legislators Alan Howarth to the main opposition Labor Party and Emma Nicholson to the centrist Liberal Democrats last year.


"We are now seeing a hemorrhaging of support from the parliamentary Conservative Party," said Labor's parliamentary business manager Donald Dewar. "It suggests the government is in a state of very, very poor morale and beginning to break apart."


The arms-to-Iraq report says William Waldegrave, now No. 2 at the Treasury, repeatedly misled MPs in parliamentary answers in which he said export guidelines had not changed.


It criticized a chief government law officer, Sir Nicholas Lyell, for advising ministers to sign "gagging orders" in an attempt to withhold government papers from the defense in a trial of three company executives accused of breaching export rules.