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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Clarke dumps euro policies
Former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke
Clarke has finished his calculations
Nick Assinder

Ken Clarke has finally launched his Tory leadership campaign with a unique attempt at healing the party rift over Europe.

He declared that, under his leadership, there would, in effect, be no official party policy on the single currency.

Shadow cabinet members would be given a free hand to say whatever they liked on the issue as long as they toned down their rhetoric and did not constantly lay into each other.

He would not abandon his wider pro-European policies but he would play down the whole issue, he suggested.

Outgoing Tory leader William Hague
Hague's euro policies dumped
The other four contenders have all pretty much vowed to keep the anti-euro policy while allowing shadow cabinet members a free reign to speak out on the issue during any future referendum campaign.

All five know that the issue of Europe has already helped finish off their last three leaders and still has the potential to tear the party apart and certainly lose it elections.

So they are all desperate to find a way of neutralising the issue.

Internal warfare

Mr Clarke's is by far the most radical - but that was probably to be expected from the leader of the Tories Europhile wing.

Whether any of them have any real chance of stopping the two sides knocking chunks out of each other remains to be seen.

Many believe the division is so deep and the positions so fiercely held that, until the issue is settled through a referendum, nothing will end the internal warfare.

What all the contenders are clearly hoping is that the true disaster of two humiliating election defeats will finally sink in and persuade the warring factions to cool it.

And each hopes that their compromise will be the one to attract the most support.

Meanwhile, Mr Clarke also suggested his campaign was offering the Tories probably their last chance to return to moderate right-of-centre policies.

By claiming it was now a two horse race between him and Michael Portillo, he has implied that this contest really is a battle for the heart and soul of the Tories.

Final say

He underlined that by insisting that, while he would happily include Mr Portillo in his shadow cabinet, he would not serve under his rival.

Tory leadership contender Michael Portillo
Portillo has tried to settle euro row
Mr Clarke knows he is still the favourite amongst ordinary voters although Mr Portillo is just ahead of him with Tory supporters - the people who will have the final say.

But he also knows he will have a fight on his hands to get through to the crucial final ballot of the contest.

Many backbenchers believe he looks like an ageing throwback to the bad old days at a time they want a young, modern, forward-looking leader.

Rightwingers and hardline Eurosceptics are still likely to oppose him despite his hope that, by offering them a referendum on the euro, he could win some of them over.

But their votes may well be split between the other candidates and many of them are now reluctant to support Michael Portillo, who they once saw as their natural champion.

Since his apparent conversion to more socially liberal policies, Mr Portillo is also a bit of an unknown quantity and has yet to map out any detailed policies.

It had long been expected that a battle to replace William Hague might end up as a fight between Mr Portillo and Mr Clarke and that now seems a highly likely outcome.

And, despite his claim that this would not be his "last hurrah", it is highly likely this is the final chance the Tories will get to elect one of the old guard and a man who has long been seen as a natural leader.

His opponents will now be eagerly watching to see who comes out to publicly back him but, whatever else happens, his candidacy has injected some new life into this campaign.

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See also:

26 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Clarke, a Europhile among sceptics
26 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Clarke enters Tory battle
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