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The BBC's Nick Robinson
"The Tories are looking for a winner"
 real 56k

Thursday, 28 June, 2001, 07:55 GMT 08:55 UK
Vote beckons in Tory race
Ken Clarke, Michael Portillo, Michael Ancram, David Davis and Iain Duncan Smith
Conservative MPs will vote in 12 days time in the first round of the Tory leadership election, it has been announced.

The leadership election is taking shape after Tory backbenchers on Wednesday night elected Sir Michael Spicer to represent their interests.

Leadership contest: Possible timetable
Nominations close: 5 July
First MPs ballot: 10 July
Second MPs ballot: 12 July
Third MPs ballot (if needed): 17 July
Top two names then put to 300,000 party members
Result known by 12 September?
In his first act as chairman of the Tories' 1922 committee, Sir Michael set next Thursday as the deadline for the leadership contest.

MPs will vote in the first of a series of knockout rounds on the following Tuesday as they choose the two candidates to go to a ballot of all party members.

The timetable means William Hague's successor could be known by mid-September.

Five candidates have so far entered the race - Michael Portillo, Iain Duncan Smith, David Davis, Michael Ancram and Kenneth Clarke.

The timetable emerged as one of the leading contenders, former chancellor Ken Clarke, received an opinion poll boost.

The Mori survey for Thursday's Times suggested he has more support than all the other candidates among both the public and, more significantly, Conservative voters.

Portillo setback

According to the poll, Mr Clarke is backed by 29% of Tory supporters compared to 25% for shadow chancellor Michael Portillo.

Shadow defence secretary Mr Duncan Smith won support from 13% of those polled, with 12% in favour of former party chairman Mr Ancram and 5% for former Europe minister Mr Davis.

Sir Michael Spicer
Sir Michael: Wants to complete election as soon as possible
However, it is the 300,000 party members who will have the final say once the list of candidates has been reduced to two in a series of ballots of Conservative MPs.

The exact timetable for the latter stages of the contest has yet to be worked out but it could take two-and-a-half months.

Organising and refereeing the contest is one of the most important tasks facing Sir Michael, who beat former minister Gillian Shephard and John Butterfill in the election for the 1922 chairman.

Policy role

A former environment minister and right-wing eurosceptic, Sir Michael was widely tipped as the favourite for the job.

1922 committee election
Sir Michael Spicer, 79 votes
Gillian Shephard, 66 votes
John Butterfill, 11 votes
In his acceptance speech he said his objectives were to ensure the unity of the Tories and to raise the status of the parliamentary party.

"I believe in particular that the parliamentary party should have a well-defined role in the development of policy for the next general election, as we used to have when I first came into parliament."

Meanwhile, the jostling among the party leadership contenders has continued.

Europe warning

Mr Clarke's insistence that the party must end its "obsession" with Europe was met with a warning from the anti-European Bruges Group that a vote for Mr Clarke was a vote for the UK to be governed by Brussels.

And the former chancellor's claim that the period since the 1997 election was "four wasted years" also came under fire.

Mr Clarke said the "save the pound" election campaign had been as big a disaster for the Tories as Labour's "ban the bomb" defeat under Michael Foot in 1983.

But Mr Ancram dismissed such comparisons as "well wide of the mark" and insisted the last four years had been "years to learn from and to build on".

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See also:

28 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Tories elect new 1922 chairman
27 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Ancram rejects 'wasted years' jibe
26 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Clarke dumps euro policies
27 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Clarke rejects tobacco charges
08 Mar 00 | A-Z of Parliament
1922 Committee
27 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Profile: Sir Michael Spicer
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