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Thursday, 21 June, 2001, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Tory leadership race thrown open
Michael Ancram and Tory leader William Hague
Ancram eyes up Hague's job
By BBC News Online political correspondent Nick Assinder

Michael Ancram's decision to join the race for the Tory leadership has thrown an unexpected wild card into the game.

The Conservative ex-chairman is a much-liked and widely-respected figure - but was always seen as a long shot for the leadership.

His relaxed, moderate and unconfrontational style has often appeared out of kilter with modern politics.

And those in the Tory party who believe only radical solutions can solve its current crisis will be astonished, and angered, by his decision.

So his move has sparked furious speculation in Westminster, with the leading theory being that he believes Ken Clarke will not to stand - leaving him as the only "stop-Portillo" candidate available.

Tory leadership contender Michael Portillo
Portillo is the man to stop
If that is the case, and Mr Clarke fails to throw his hat into the ring, then Mr Ancram stands a very good chance of getting thorough to the final leadership ballot.

In looking for someone to stop Mr Portillo, there are many Tories determined to find a candidate who - unlike the other contenders - is not from the right wing of the party.

They are looking for a healer who can unite the Eurosceptic and Euroenthusiast wings of the party while, at the same time, refusing to abandon traditional Conservative values.

And the Earl of Ancram certainly seems to fit that bill.

Defeat Portillo

He has no serious enemies and is seen by many as the man best suited to unite the party.

Tory leadership contender Iain Duncan Smith
Duncan Smith hails from the right
He is personally popular and presents a moderate, inclusive image which should appeal to Tories across the spectrum.

If he manages to get through to the final round of the contest, where ordinary party members vote, he must have a chance of defeating Mr Portillo.

But he would inevitably be branded as the stop-gap or caretaker leader whose job was to hold the party together as it gradually recovered from the trauma of two crushing election defeats.

He has clearly calculated he can win enough support from those Tories who do not want to support the right wing candidates - Iain Duncan Smith or David Davis - but who are also suspicious of the liberalism offered by Mr Portillo.

And he was clearly out to woo that section of the party in his leadership speech in which he insisted the Tories should not tear themselves apart over Europe or try to ape New Labour.

He insisted he wanted to keep the Tory party on track and resist the temptation to "match spin with spin, stardust with stardust" and bend with "fickle fashion."

It was a clear and bitter sideswipe at Mr Portillo who had earlier launched his official campaign with a call for the party to concentrate on sorting out the country's public services - Labour's big idea.

It was uncharacteristically blunt for Mr Ancram and it showed, once again, that this leadership contest is still wide open and still has the potential to become extremely bloody.

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