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EDITIONS
Monday, 18 June, 2001, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
Bitter Widdecombe bows out
Ann Widdecombe has announced that she will not be running for the Conservative leadership.

She angrily blamed her decision on a lack of support among the parliamentary Tory Party.


I have decided to return to the backbenches as soon as this contest is over

Ann Widdecombe
The shadow home secretary said she would only stand if no other candidate came forward to challenge Michael Portillo.

And that seems unlikely because Tory right-winger Iain Duncan Smith earlier indicated that he would be running - a move that will be confirmed with a formal announcement on Tuesday.

Shadow chancellor and bookies' favourite Michael Portillo has already announced his candidature.

Soundings

Miss Widdecombe took soundings from parliamentary colleagues at the weekend and said that although she felt she had support in the wider party there was not enough backing among Tory MPs.

She explained that she would support the person best placed "to lead the Conservative Party into the future" and indicated that might well be former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke.

She said: "I have enormous respect for Ken Clarke, and if we can find some solution to the euro issue, I certainly would find it very easy indeed to support him."

Explaining her decision not to run, she said it was not due to any "lack of will on my part or to any lack of encouragement" from rank and file members.

"But rather to a lack of support from my parliamentary colleagues," she said.

Miss Widdecombe had already announced she could not work in a shadow cabinet led by Michael Portillo.

And although she said this did not apply to any other likely candidate, she had decided to step back from the front line and spend more time with her elderly mother.

Backbench role

"I have decided to return to the backbenches as soon as this contest is over," she said at a news conference in Hoxton, east London.

She added: "I have ideas on a whole range of subjects which I want to put forward from the freedom of the back benches, rather than from the confines of collective responsibility and the restrictions of dealing with just one subject."

Last week Miss Widdecombe cited the "backbiters" who surrounded Mr Portillo as the main reason she would not serve him.

But asked on BBC Radio 4's World at One about the dangers of Mr Portillo as Tory leader, she said: "I think we have a lot a rhetoric from Michael Portillo about reaching out."

Despite that, politicians of all parties were neglecting the people of rundown estates like the one she was visiting on Monday.

"If we really want to be inclusive, they're the ones I want to include," she said.

Miss Widdecombe said she had not be able to persuade Mr Portillo, among other shadow cabinet ministers, to back that policy.

False start

Earlier, Mr Duncan Smith's campaign suffered something of a false start when one of his supporters, Tory transport spokesman Bernard Jenkin, confirmed the shadow defence secretary would run.

Mr Duncan Smith said that Mr Jenkin's comments were not an official announcement before adding: "Clearly it is likely that my intention will be to stand."

Iain Duncan Smith, shadow defence secretary
Iain Duncan Smith: 'fresh face' of Conservatism
The right-winger - who is likely to get the backing of former Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher - said the Tories needed "continuity and change".

Mr Clarke has yet to say whether he will run. If he does he will be the only pro-single currency candidate and faces votes by a largely eurosceptic parliamentary Tory Party.

If he could survive that he might be able to garner greater support among the party's rank and file at the second stage.

Another possible candidate, and something of a dark horse, is David Davis, chairman of the public accounts committee.

But Mr Davis has kept a low profile, sparking doubts over whether he feels the time is right for a challenge.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Pienaar
"Michael Portillo is still the only candidate to formally declare"
Ann Widdecombe
announces her decision to reporters
Shadow Transport Minister, Bernard Jenkin
"Iain is a clean sweep"

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