Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Monday, 2 July, 2001, 07:13 GMT 08:13 UK
Who should be Tory leader?

Former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke has joined the contest to be the new leader of the Conservative Party. But which of the five contenders would you choose?

Mr Clarke is up against Michael Portillo, Michael Ancram, who quit as Tory chairman on Thursday, Iain Duncan Smith and David Davis.

Mr Portillo was first to throw his hat in the ring, but now it's an intriguing five horse race.

Who do you think would best serve the party as it bids to shake off two withering election defeats?

This Talking Point is now closed. Your comments are posted below.

Ken Clarke is the only person who has run all the departments which are of most interest to voters. Not only that, he is the architect of the improved economy that Gordon Brown has been claiming responsibility for.
Paul, UK

It is about time the UK had a Churchill to give it the leadership it needs

Rupert G.F. Toms, South Africa
It is a pity that Winston Churchill Jnr is not in the Parliament still. It is about time that the UK had a Churchill to give it the leadership it needs.
Rupert G.F. Toms, South Africa

Once again a Tory Leadership race seems to be turning into a farcical sham. Even as an ardent euro-sceptic I am bidding for Clarke. This is not the only issue that matters - we need a good old-fashioned Tory politician with values, guts and a sense of belief in himself rather than the shambolic spin and win government we have at present.
Frazer, England

The answer is 'none of the above' I'm afraid. None of them has any new ideas or anything new to say. How can they revitalise the Tory Party when they are all still tainted by the days of Thatcherism? To be electable, the Labour Party had to rebuild itself from the grass roots up and distance itself from the militant tendency. This is the task that now faces the Conservatives. If they are to have a hope of power within the next ten years, NOW is the time to exorcise the ghosts of the past that haunt them.
Dave M., England

Ken Clarke has the ability to unite the party

Charles, Brazil
Ken Clarke has the ability to unite the party although he also needs to reinvent it (New Conservatism?). A good start would be to give the vote to non-resident Brits and index their pensions just like they do for UK residents. Michael Portillo appears to be a divisive type of politician. Just look how he started his campaign by going for the jugular. He will need his opponents later on if he wins. Also, how can someone with an unconventional past personal life compete against a Labour candidate with a conventional family background if other issues are not really that important to the voter? Also the voter will never quite forget how he got thrown out in 1997, despite being a leading minister, unlike Ken Clarke.
Charles, Brazil

My choice for the leader would have to be Kenneth Clarke. He has much more experience than all of the other candidates, and would be a good strong leader of the party. With the dreadful results of the last two elections, they need someone with a strong personality. This has to be Kenneth Clarke. Time for Tony Blair to have a tough leader of the opposition. Good luck to Kenneth Clarke in the forth-coming contest for the leadership.
Steve Fuller, England

Just having Portillo as leader will make sure the Tories lose the next election. His past record speaks for itself. Clarke would hand over control of Britain to Brussels so quickly it would shock even Tony Blair. As for the other three, I have heard next to nothing about any of them and do not know what they stand for, like the vast majority of the population. Let's face it, there isn't one Tory MP who you could imagine as leader of the country.
A. Vaughan, England

The Parliamentary Conservative Party must realise that there will be more than 166 voters at the next general election. Tory MPs, members of the Tory party, and core Tory supporters will always vote Tory. Others will always vote Labour. Duncan Smith and Portillo may be popular with the 166 MPs, but only Clarke will compete with Blair for the votes of the centre: the votes that the Tory Party needs to win back.
Richard Hill, London/New York

My interest in the Conservatives has just been awakened for the first time in four years

Zachary Mann, England
My interest in the Conservatives has just been awakened for the first time in four years. I don't know what Mr Clarke's credentials are, but I must admit I'm interested to find out. Which is more than I can say for Portillo, who seems just too concerned about image and style. Portillo reminds me a little of Al Gore, very wooden, measured and stiff. Clarke by contrast is animated, louder and more articulate. I feel Portillo will appeal to the younger voter who just gets his/her political insight from the television. Clarke will appeal more to those who have studied Politics and researched their opinions and do not extrapolate intent from style.
Zachary Mann, England

Ken Clarke would be great if he wasn't so pro European. We need an opposition which isn't very enthusiastic about Europe. Portillo is just another Blair. Out of the lot, Iain Duncan Smith would get my vote.
James, UK

If the Tories really want to get back into power at Westminster they must elect Ken Clarke as their leader, but knowing the Tories they will elect another right wing English nationalist and stay out of power for a generation or more. From a Scottish viewpoint the only way the electorate will ever vote for the Conservatives again will be if they accept and campaign for independence for Scotland.
George, Scotland

On balance I think Mr Portillo should lead

David Price, UK
Who can you trust, Mr Portillo who drops his right wing views or Mr Clarke who says make me leader or I won't contribute to the party at all? On balance I think Mr Portillo should lead, we need someone who is prepared to take risks and be creative to defeat the spinning left-centre-right Labour government. But whoever leads - should lead! Temporarily dropping a position on the euro and leaving it to individual MPs to put their own cause is not leading. If the party cannot present a united position then it should accept that and work to present an objective perspective to the country and encourage a referendum.
David Price, UK

Unlike most of the other writers on this page, I actually have a vote (being a member of the Conservative Party - and no, I'm not some 65 year old Sir Arnold Tufton-Bufton, but a 22 year old teacher). I am naturally a Portillo supporter (being socially liberal, economically Thatcherite and eurosceptic) and believe that he has the star qualities to be a good leader. However, I believe that Ken Clarke has the star qualities to be an excellent PM. Will his views on Europe (very much different from mine) exclude me from voting for him? Well, if he disagreed with the Tory policy on education, pensions or transport would I exclude him? Probably not, so why should Europe be any different? As long as he sticks to his word about giving members of our party freedom of speech, I'll be voting for Ken Clarke.
Antony Little, Uxbridge, UK

The real issue with the Conservative Party is that the backbench MPs are out of touch and dated, consequently they are likely to elect that is equally out of touch and the decline of the Tory species will continue. It is a good example of Darwinian behaviour.
Mike Kelly, Expat in Australia

Portillo is too much of an opportunist and attention-seeker

Carys Moseley, UK
Portillo is too much of an opportunist and attention-seeker to be a serious leader. Ken Clark has been too blase so far in conducting his own business affairs abroad while the campaigning has started. He comes across as too casual. I would say Michael Ancram is the most serious and able candidate. He has more substance and less showiness, and we desperately need that as an antidote to Blair. One of the reasons so few people vote in Britain is that the politicians are so superficial and are pursuing destructive policies. A pro-family Conservative government would bring at least some measures in to improve our disintegrating society. I have never voted Conservative but would consider doing so if they became definitely pro-family.
Carys Moseley, UK

We already have a Tony Blair. What would we gain by having an older, fatter, failed Blair supporter as leader of the Conservatives?
G Hampton, England

The only one to give Tony Blair a run for his money

Tony Haigh, England
Ken Clarke stands head and shoulders above any of the other candidates. He is the only one of the five likely to bring back the votes that have been lost since 1992. In the eyes of the electorate at large he would be the only one to give Tony Blair a run for his money. A bit like Churchill in 1940 - out in the cold then called back to save the day!
Tony Haigh, England

The Conservative party have become a single issue party, and the constant harping on about Europe is something that people are BORED with. They will never be elected again until they resolve their difficulties over Europe and start to take a more responsible attitude to the EU as a whole. After all it was a Conservative government which held the referendum on membership.
Steve Browne, USA

Although "none of the above" fill me with any enthusiasm, I would strongly advise any Tories out there NOT to vote for Portillo - as far as I can see he is saying very little that is different to the current leader and their stead-fast stance on Europe is a sure fire way to lose by a similar margin in the next election. At least Mr Clarke is willing to change the party into a more viable political force as opposed to a mish-mash group on the fringes of mainstream politics.
Neil Davies, North Wales, UK

I'm afraid it doesn't matter who the Tories choose as their next leader. Until the nation makes the decision whether to go further into Europe or not the Tories will be far too divided to be electable. The first step the Tories need to make along the road to being a serious and worthwhile opposition party is to pressure Labour into putting the referendum to the nation. Once we have an answer the Tory party will have a firm foundation upon which to re-build.
Tim Butterworth, Scotland

At the moment the Tories are unelectable. They need to reform themselves and come into the 21st century. Only Clarke or Portillo have the experience and charisma that will help the Tories help themselves.
Jill Mitchell, England

Conservatives should believe in one nation, tolerance, moderation and competence

Riccardo, UK
Ken's the man. The problem is he is in a party that has forgotten what it means to be Tory. Neo-liberalism and xenophobia may be the hallmarks of US Republicans or continental neo-fascists, but not true Tories. Conservatives should believe in one nation, tolerance, moderation and competence. From being a reflection of what was best in Britain it has become a symptom of everything that is bad, and Thatcher's the one to blame for that. Go on, Ken, win back the party from Blair.
Riccardo, UK

By choosing Ken Clarke, the Tories would win the next election. I therefore predict that the Tories will choose Portillo, and slump to yet another humiliating defeat next time, with most of the country voting Labour just to watch Portillo in agony as in the '97 election!
Bob, USA (ex-pat)

Pro-Euro parties did very well in the last two elections, anti-Euro ones did very badly. Ken Clarke's views on Europe should not be seen as a handicap to leading a UK political party.
Patrick, England

A few photo ops with Ken clutching a pint and cigar at his local jazz club should do the trick

Tim, USA
If the Tories want to get elected there is only one choice - Ken Clarke. Times are changing and political opinions of those that vote are moving towards the centre. Labour spotted this a while ago and came up with the sugar-coated, soft-focus Tony. The Tories must learn from this and tone down their stiff, authoritarian and aloof image so they appear to be more in touch with your everyday Brit. A few photo ops with Ken clutching a pint and cigar at his local jazz club should do the trick.
Tim, USA

To stand any chance of turning the polls round in one term, the Tories need a strong candidate. A 'real' charismatic individual with whom a wide spectrum of the electorate can identify and respect - a leader not 'stained' by the fiasco that has been the party since Lady Thatcher. I don't know of one and sadly none seems likely to emerge in this contest...
Ian Thomas, UK

Michael Portillo has clearly changed his spots

Struan, A Scot in Germany
Michael Portillo has clearly changed his spots - from a right winger to a centralist. Although this shift makes me a bit uneasy, I believe he is now voicing a point of view that is both more representative of his mindset and that of the country. The Conservative Party needs a charismatic leader and he certainly offers that. Ken Clarke is also a great character but seems to be in too much of a hurry to get the UK into the Euro. The other candidates would simply perpetuate the embarrassing image the party currently has.
Struan, A Scot in Germany

Brilliant! The only man who could realistically provide an alternative to, and maybe even beat, Blair is Ken Clarke and the loonies in the Tory party will never elect him, thus depriving them of power for even longer, perhaps for ever. Brilliant!
Idris, UK

Ken Clarke should have been the leader of the Conservative Party a long time ago!
Finn, UK

Ken Clarke is my preferred choice as he might bring the Tories more into the centre instead of being far right and unelectable. However I see Ken Clarke as a stop gap until someone new and passionate comes into the frame (a la Blair) which will increase the Conservatives' chances of winning the election of 2011 not 2006.
John K, UK

Ken Clarke is a one-nation Conservative and has the best policies

Yousaf Sani (Brit), UK
Ken Clarke is a one-nation Conservative and has the best policies. He can unite the Conservative Party as well as the British people in general. I wish him good luck.
Yousaf Sani (Brit), UK

If anyone other than Ken Clarke becomes leader, the Conservative Party will lose the next election and probably the one after that.
Bryan Marden, UK

As a lifelong Labour supporter I would prefer one of the unknowns to win the leadership of the Tory Party, but I am of a strong belief that a healthy government needs a strong party in opposition. Only Ken Clarke has the credentials to fulfil this role, and as a previous chancellor, he understands the need for integration into the European currency as a safeguard to the British position in Europe. Anyway, it will make Prime Minister's question time extremely interesting, as discussion between Ken Clarke and Tony Blair across the ballot box can only result in excellent dialogue and argument.
Kevin Cheetham, England

The major problem the Tories have is this constant harking back to the days of Thatcher

Jim Waite, UK
Ken Clarke is the only leader who will appeal to plenty of Labour voters like me who are fed up with the rightwards drift of the Tories. However, the major problem the Tories have is this constant harking back to the days of Thatcher. She may be popular with most of the Conservative Party but to most of us, seeing her wheeled out spouting her outdated and bigoted views is a major turn-off.
Jim Waite, UK

Although he is one of those figures that you either love or hate, it's quite clear that Michael Portillo is the only candidate who has a genuine chance of making the Tories electable again. Of the others, they are either too right-wing or, frankly, too old. Don't forget that it's liable to be getting on for another 10 years before the Conservatives may form a government.
Andy Hutchcraft, UK

All are old Tory and will do nothing to rejuvenate the Party

Rob N, England
As a floating voter, none of the contenders strike me as modern. All are old Tory and will do nothing to rejuvenate the Party. I can see the Blair grin getting ever wider if the final two are Portillo and Clark.
Rob N, England

Remarks about "Right wing lunacy" show how wide of the mark people can be when assessing why the Tories lost the last two elections. Both defeats were assured not by policies but by the almost complete lack of charisma of the party's presidential candidates - which is what our system has become, like it or not. For those on the Left, Blair is "right wing" and yet people still voted for him - largely because of his carefully and expensively contrived image. To fight image with image, the Tories will be tempted to choose either Portillo or Clarke -and the scores on your poll show how easily people are being suckered into this miserable game. That both would be equally disastrous (albeit for different reasons) is beside the point. People want stars. Government by media-driven image - wonderful.
G.Cooper, England

I suspect that Labour will be most worried by Ken Clarke (intelligent, amusing and sharp), but my personal preference is for Michael Portillo; a slightly risky choice (not as risky as Duncan Smith), but someone whose approach and ideas I agree with.
Keith Feetham, England

If the Conservatives in Britain have any sense, they will NOT follow the example of electing a far-right, socially-conservative leader as right-wingers have done here in Canada. By choosing Alliance Leader Stockwell Day as their standard-bearer, the right has already handed the next election to the Liberals. Mr. Day, elected on the backs of pro-life, hard-right instant members of the Alliance party, is now unable to lead even his own caucus, never mind appeal to the rest of the nation. If the Conservatives want to have a hope of winning, they should elect someone like Ken Clarke to bring the party back to the sensible centre.
Gord, Canada

By the looks of the poll on the BBC Web site Kenneth Clarke is a clear favourite with "the people". However, given his views on Europe it would seem impossible for him to gain majority support from the Conservative elite. The logical conclusion is for the Tory party to split with Portillo leading the right wing and Clarke the centre-left. From that position Kenneth Clarke could mop up Liberal votes and pose a serious threat to Labour.
Joe Ryan, France

The Tories clearly don't see themselves as other see them. None of the contenders for the leadership would be electable as PM. They currently lack men/women of stature and statesmanship
Charles Price, UK

It seems to me that the ideal approach is still the first one hinted at when the race started - that Portillo and Clarke team up together. Not only would this send a clear message to the party that unity and team work are the critical elements but it also sends a clear message to the public that the Conservative Party is about working together. This is an opportunity that they should grasp eagerly. How much of Labour politics is about "I did this" and "I did that"? What happened to partnerships and teamwork?

Both Portillo and Clarke pose serious opposition potential and it's just a shame to see that weakened by the two people who should be steering the party working against each other. All that is going to happen is a public display of disagreements that will ultimately turn to the Euro and weaken the party further. It's time to learn from mistakes.
Anthony, England

I'm now split between Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo. They are the only two with enough political muscle for the job and also the right ideas. Iain Duncan Smith completely misses the point when saying the party (and its leader) shouldn't try to "out-Blair Tony Blair" - right wing lunacy has led the Tories only to a defeat of the same size as 1997. It's time to wake up and take note of the real world - and in particular to realise that Lady Thatcher has been out of power for eleven years now (and her policies were out of date several years before her fall from power).
Dr. Dominic Jackson, England

At last an intelligent contender has entered the race

David, USA (Ex pat)
At last an intelligent contender has entered the race. Kenneth Clarke appears the only professional, independent thinker in the party and as such is the only choice for leader. Brown shoes and Europhile ideas be damned - he is our only hope.
David, New York, USA (Ex pat)

They're all slightly ridiculous. In a country where most people consider the government's policies to be too far right, they're arguing for going further right still. Having said that, my favourite would be Iain Duncan Smith. He's such an anachronism that he would quickly lead this bunch of red-necked dinosaurs into the obscurity they deserve.
Charles Moore, Scotland

It seems that the Conservative Party is in an impossible situation: it must learn the lessons of the recent Labour landslide (ie that the right-of-centre politics of the past four years does not strike a chord sufficiently with a centre-minded electorate). But at the same time the election of a centre-left party leader will result in a Conservative leader who has the opinion of the party on issues such as Europe and social welfare (as well as key economic policy) stacked against him. The damage done by the last administration and its right wing policy has been seen not only in a crushing election defeat but also, more worryingly, in the sabotage of any chance of success in the near future for a non-right wing leader.
Christopher, England

It'll be another five years before they get another chance

Rod Johnston, Scotland
Who cares - they're down and out anyway. Also it'll be another five years before they get another chance - if they're lucky.
Rod Johnston, Scotland

Michael Portillo should be a good bet to keep the Tories out of power for a while!
Peter Wall, UK

It is ironic that the men who could be elected leader of the Tory Party would never be leaders of the country and the men who could be elected Prime Minister could never lead their party. The Tory Party should make the right choice and go for Clarke or maybe Portillo, but the blue-rinse brigade will settle on one of the candidates less appealing to the rest of the country.
George, Slough, UK

Ken Clarke has huge experience in government

Ed Green, UK
Ken Clarke is not only an able and decent man, he also has huge experience in government. He is surely the best-placed candidate to carry the offensive against an spin-obsessed, dishonest regime. Over forty percent of the electorate felt no party offered to them was worth a five-minute stroll on a warm summer evening this year. If one in four of them had felt able to vote Conservative, the election would have been won by the Conservative Party. Ken Clarke is the most likely candidate to reverse the collapse in Britain's faith in the electoral process.
Ed Green, UK

It must be Michael Portillo, he is clearly head and shoulders above the rest and the only one to lead the Conservatives forward. He has presence, charm and charisma and that is what is needed in a leader, someone who stands out from the rest. Please, no matter what experience he has, NOT Kenneth Clarke.
Jennifer, UK

I still want Ann Widdecombe - she'd guarantee they remained unelectable.
Martyn, UK

Ken Clarke clearly has the most experience in government and clearly has the best policies. There is no hiding behind spin or advisors for him. He has freely spoken his exact intentions on Euro issues and I am looking forward to finally having somebody to vote for...
Karina, FRANCE (Brit)

Ann Widdecombe strikes me as the only conservative figure in your country with the sense and dedication to be a leader.
Robert del Valle, USA

They need someone with a strong personality and views if they wish to take the party forward - Portillo isn't a good idea, Ken Clarke neither. The trouble with the Conservative party is ignorance and are still living with past glories and suffering a MAJOR hangover still from when they lost power to the Labour party...
Greig, UK

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

Vote now
Who should be the new Tory leader?

Recent stories

The final two


See also:

22 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Clarke's secret Tory leadership decision
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Talking Point stories