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EDITIONS
Friday, 6 July, 2001, 02:21 GMT 03:21 UK
Tory rivals go head-to-head
Michael Ancram, Ken Clarke, David Davis, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Portillo
The debate was remarkably polite
The five would-be successors to William Hague have held their first televised debate, focusing on the party's future, Europe, public services and the legalisation of drugs.

Michael Ancram, Ken Clarke, David Davis, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Portillo agreed on most issues when they appeared on a special edition of BBC1's Question Time programme.

Only the single currency put distance between pro-euro Ken Clarke and the rest.


People should hear us talk about something else

Michael Portillo on the euro
Quizzed by audience members on the issue of decriminalising cannabis, shadow chancellor Michael Portillo said the arguments for and against were "finely balanced".

He conceded that he had not yet reached a conclusion on the issue.

The leadership contest will be settled ahead of the party's October conference, with the first round of voting taking place on Tuesday before the final result is in on 12 September.

Ken Clarke again strongly criticised the strategy adopted by William Hague of building his election campaign entirely around the euro, and for failing to engage ordinary voters on public services.

'Destroying the party'

He said: "My colleagues were destroying the party by making Save the Pound the key element in an election campaign against a government which was unpopular on just about every other issue you could think."

But David Davis said he believed the public had backed away from the Tories as they "think we've stopped caring".

Michael Ancram agreed, and said that "there was a degree of harshness" in the Tory pitch.

'Pub bores'

Iain Duncan Smith repeated his stance on the single currency, saying he was against the euro on constitutional, not economic grounds.

David Davis and Michael Ancram concurred but Michael Portillo said "Britain should have its own currency".

He added that the party should stop talking about it until a referendum on the subject was called as Tories had become "pub bores" on the issue.

He went further, saying: "We have reached the stage in the Conservative Party where if we have a week's conference, and in that we have a 10-minute row about the euro, that will be all that is reported.

"People should hear us talk about something else."

Personality politics were off the agenda in a civilised debate as all candidates sought to reach out to the party and the wider public.

Figures of the past

When Iain Duncan Smith was asked how he felt about being called a "remarkably normal family man" by Lord Tebbit, he was quick to distance himself from a remark seen as a swipe at Michael Portillo's revelations of a homosexual past.

He said: "I don't mind if these great characters of the past row about us off the television cameras or on the TV cameras."

But he said that was not what this debate was about, adding that he was not qualified to run the party on the grounds that he was a family man and one of his rivals was not.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Norman Smith
"There were no major gaffs, but no knock-outs either"

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See also:

04 Jul 01 | UK Politics
05 Jul 01 | UK Politics
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