FOR the last Big Beast in the Tory Party, it was poignant that it should all end with a whimper, not a bang.
Ken Clarke's ejection from the leadership race in yesterday's first ballot removes the man Labour fears most and the country likes best and who could possibly (with Europe so irrelevant) have been a father figure to unite this party while the Young Turks come of age.
But the exit of Mr Clarke, who first held ministerial office all of 33 years ago, tells its own story. This is a party that is clearly hungry for renewal and ready to entrust its fate to a new generation.
David Cameron did very well yesterday though, significantly, he didn't get more than 30 per cent of the MPs' vote.
Certainly - as he picks up Clarke supporters - he is likely to be the front runner. But will enough MPs coalesce around him to prevent a groundswell for the party's right wing?
David Davis did not do as well as he'd hoped but did not do badly either.
Will he now be able to consolidate his position?
As for Liam Fox, a tantalising question.
Can he persuade enough Clarke and Davis supporters to join a campaign which some see as younger and more attractive than the Davis machine - which is undoubtedly capable but feels less and less a winner?
On to the next round in this gripping contest and then those three weeks in which we want to hear a lot more about the policies of the two winners, particularly if the stardust Old Etonian candidate about whom we know so little is - as seems certain - one of them.
THE pensions crisis poses one of the greatest challenges to this country and the gold-plated schemes enjoyed by millions in the public sector is the most acute part of that problem.
The solution was painful but unavoidable - the retirement age for state workers would have to rise from 60 to 65 to match the private sector. …