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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Portillo welcomes Clarke challenge
Michael Portillo
Michael Portillo faces five-way contest
Michael Portillo says he is "very pleased" former chancellor Kenneth Clarke has joined him in the Conservative leadership race, despite signs it has slowed his own early charge.

His comments came as the second survey in two days suggested Mr Clarke is more popular than Mr Portillo both with Tory voters and the wider electorate.

Clearly, Mr Portillo does not want free speech in the party he would lead

John Townend
Former Tory MP
With five runners now in the leadership race, there are 11 days to go before MPs vote in the first round of the contest.

Outsider David Davis visited a police station on Friday to call for a 25% increase in police numbers.

Interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Portillo also said he would expel any one from the party if they expressed "bigoted" views, pointing to the pre-election Tory race row.

Poll positions

An ICM poll in the Daily Mail asked 1,007 voters to assess the ability of those candidates they knew something about.

Of those questioned, 47% thought Mr Clarke would make a "very good" or "quite good leader".

Former Conservative MP John Townend
Townend: Says Portillo does not want free speech
That compared with 24% for Mr Portillo, 23% for Michael Ancram, 24% for David Davis and 19% for Iain Duncan Smith.

The poll suggested Mr Clarke also has a 46% to 34% lead over Mr Portillo among Tory voters.

But Mr Portillo said: "I am very pleased indeed that Ken Clarke is the competition.

"He is an outstanding figure in the Conservative Party, a man of great talent and I think it would be a rather extraordinary competition if he weren't part of it."

Mr Portillo said he would be prepared in principle to serve in any of his rivals' shadow cabinets if they won, although there might be "policy questions to be resolved".

Race row

But he refused to discuss whether a pro-European like Mr Clarke could lead the Conservative Party.

He said he would expel anyone expressing the kind of "bigoted" views shown by John Townend, the MP who caused pre-election outrage by saying immigrants had undermined Britain's "Anglo-Saxon" society.

Mr Townend, who retired as an MP at the election, was forced to apologise by party leader William Hague and had to promise not to repeat his remarks.

Mr Portillo said Mr Townend's remarks had cost the party "very dearly".

Those comments sparked a counter-attack from Mr Townend, who again denied being racist.

"Clearly, Mr Portillo if he becomes leader does not want free speech in the party he would lead," he told BBC News.

More officers

Mr Davis called for 30,000 more police officers and 15,000 extra special constables.

"Local police should be freed up to focus on crime and anti-social behaviour," he said.

"New national squads would provide certain services more effectively and efficiently, in particular murder and fraud investigations and motorway policing."

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See also:

28 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Vote beckons in Tory race
27 Jun 01 | UK
Clarke faces a gut reaction
27 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Who's backing whom?
30 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Race row MP forced to apologise
28 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Clarke vows to stay a heavyweight
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