Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Clarke Hits the Ground Running with Third Tory Leadership Bid

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Clarke Hits the Ground Running with Third Tory Leadership Bid

Article excerpt

Byline: JOE MURPHY

KENNETH CLARKE held a council of war with close supporters today as his leadership bandwagon rumbled into action once again.

The former Chancellor was also set to hold meetings with a few wavering Conservative MPs in a stage-managed show of building up his backing at Westminster.

Mr Clarke's formal entry into the

contest to succeed Michael Howard stole a march on rivals led by David Davis and David Cameron, neither of whom has officially launched their bids yet.

In ebullient form, the MP for Rushcliffe

in Nottinghamshire is already

working on the first of his major setpiece speeches, which will be delivered tomorrow. Designed to show Mr Clarke's cross-party appeal, it will be delivered to an audience of non-Tories and is expected to focus on his opposition to the war in Iraq.

It emerged that shadow education spokesman Mr Cameron will interrupt his holiday in Devon tomorrow to counter the Clarke campaign with a speech of his own in the West Country.

Mr Clarke announced his decision to stand for a third time - he lost to William Hague in 1997 and Iain Duncan Smith in 2001 - in an interview in the Daily Mail.

"I am determined that Britain should be governed better than it has been under New Labour," he declared.

"I am horrified by a government run on a basis of spin. The political health of Britain has deteriorated very sharply. The Conservative Party must do something about it, and I am the man to do it."

His official entry into the fray transforms the outlook for several candidates. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, is likely to be badly squeezed because both men appeal to the One Nation rump in the party and Mr Clarke is the better-known figure.

The immediate showdown that most fascinates Tory MPs is Mr Clarke's bid to pitch Mr Cameron out of the final runoff.

The battle between big beast Mr Clarke, 65, and youthful star Mr Cameron, 38, promises to be a memorable skirmish after an attempt by Lord Heseltine to persuade the younger man to join a "dream ticket" with Mr Clarke failed to materialise. Frontrunner David Davis appears to have a comfortable lead over his rivals, but that is likely to be narrowed when some fringe candidates pull out.

Shadow foreign secretary Liam Fox and shadow trade and industry spokesman David Willetts have both signalled their intention to stand, but neither are expected to last long once campaigning begins.

Mr Clarke acted last week to tackle the biggest handicap in the eyes of many Tories - his passionate support for Europe - by signalling that he would not support British membership of the single currency if he was elected.

He went further in today's interview, effectively ruling out both the euro and the EU constitution under his tenure.

He said: "I said that the question of Britain's admission wouldn't arise for at least 10 years. …

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