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Thursday, 5 July, 2001, 21:11 GMT 22:11 UK
The league of gentlemen
Tory leadership contender Micahel Portillo
Portillo took a soft line on cannabis
Nick Assinder

They may be trying to stitch each other up in private, but when the five would-be Tory leaders appeared on the same platform they were astonishingly civilised.

There were no personal attacks and there were no snide remarks about their past records.

All five had previously insisted they did not want the contest to turn into a personalised slanging match - and they lived up to their pledges.

The Question Time audience offered them the chance to put the boot into each other over issues like the legalisation of cannabis, homosexuality, racism and - inevitably - Europe.

Former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke
Clarke wants to play down Europe
But in a performance that hugely disappointed observers, there was no bust up.

Not famous

The not-famous five could not have been more polite.

They agreed on a wide range of issues but were deliberately careful not to commit themselves to anything very much.

Michael Portillo appeared to suggest he would support the decriminalisation of cannabis, Iain Duncan Smith ruled out ever joining the euro and Ken Clarke said he would have done it all differently over the past four years.

There were no surprises and, astonishingly, there were no fisticuffs.

It was the sort of on-screen clash that everyone wanted to see the party leaders taking part in at the election.

Fresh air

The leaders knew better than to get into that mud pit, but these men showed how it could be done in an ideal world.

They set out their beliefs, as far as they were prepared to, and they were not that far apart on anything - even Europe.

They even patted each other on the back for their comradeliness.

Whether anyone learned anything much from the debate is doubtful, all their positions have been outlined before and were just re-stated.

But it was the sort of debate many people have been crying out for and was a welcome breath of fresh air.

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