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Thursday, 12 July, 2001, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Ancram, the emollient earl
Michael Ancram's surprise decision to run for the Conservative leadership came after repeated requests from colleagues who told him he could not stand aside from the contest.

Unfortunately, when it came to the repeat of the first round the many colleagues failed to materialise leaving the good-natured aristocrat and former Tory chairman unable to secure enough support from colleagues.

Mr Ancram did far better than expected in the first contest grabbing 21 votes and coming joint last with rival David Davis.

He may have done better but ultimately it was clear that he could not win so it was a surprise when he followed Mr Davis's lead and forced the Tories to stage the farcical re-run.

As he has found out, his vote evaporated with many supporters switching to Ken Clarke.

Perhaps part of the problem was that he was not perceived as a leader who could win an election but rather as a caretaker figure whose general popularity might have enabled him to unite the party before handing over the mantle to younger hands.

21st century aristocrat

Perhaps also Tory MPs sensed the British electorate could not stomach an aristocratic prime minister in the 21st century.

But despite being an earl in his own right and married into one of the UK's top aristocratic families, Mr Ancram's affable nature and mild manner went down well in his years as Conservative chairman.

He was well placed to try to boost the morale of grass roots activists - a role which the country music fan says took him back to playing his acoustic guitar in public.

Those rounds on the so-called "rubber chicken circuit" of local Tory events could have served him well if he had managed to garner enough support from MPs to make through to a second round when the contest is decided by the party rank-and-file.

Legal career

Born in 1945, Michael Ancram was educated at the Catholic boarding school Ampleforth and Christ Church College, Oxford.

After studying law at Edinburgh University, he went to the Scottish Bar as an advocate in 1970 and later became a QC.

It was 1970, the year Edward Heath became prime minister, that Mr Ancram contested his first parliamentary election - in West Lothian.

Baroness Thatcher
Thatcher gave Ancram first government job
When he became an MP - for Berwickshire and East Lothian four years later - it was to last only eight months.

He was defeated in the October 1974 election and that loss prompted the first of three changes in seat for Mr Ancram.

Margaret Thatcher's first election victory in 1979 saw him return to parliament as MP for Edinburgh South - a seat he held until 1987.

More at home on the "One Nation" left of the Conservative Party, Mr Ancram was no natural Thatcherite, but it was Mrs Thatcher who gave him his first government job - as parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Scottish Office.

In that job, Mr Ancram faced the unenviable task of introducing the poll tax north of the border - where it was imposed earlier than in England and Wales.
Former Tory Chairman Lord Parkinson
Ancram succeeded Lord Parkinson as chairman

He had to promote the tax enthusiastically, despite what many believed were his own misgivings.

His time in government was cut short by defeat at the polls in 1987.

But five years later he was back - this time away from his native Scotland in Devizes, Wiltshire.

Northern Ireland talks

Another tough job beckoned as then Prime Minister John Major sent him to the Northern Ireland office as the prominent Catholic minister.

And, despite the fact that Mr Ancram had been in Brighton's Grand Hotel when it was bombed by the IRA in 1984, he led the first government delegation to public talks with Sinn Fein in 1995.

With the Conservatives wiped out in Wales and Scotland in 1997, the new Tory leader, William Hague, made him constitutional affairs spokesman.

That meant he had to run the Tories' anti-devolution campaign, despite the fact he had once favoured devolution.

Conciliator

Once again, Mr Ancram was seen to rise to the occasion - a hard campaign which may have prepared him well for gathering the Tory troops for the general election battle.

Throughout the election contest he remained firmly optimistic about the Tory chances - insisting his "nose" suggested a very different picture to the gloomy opinion poll forecasts.

The opinion polls came out on top in the public predictions, but the election battle confirmed Mr Ancram's reputation for being a trustworthy, loyal and safe frontline operator.

Those great conciliation skills are precisely why some colleagues may have said that he had the right stuff to become Tory leader.

But ultimately MPs could not bring themselves to vote for a caretaker leader - to do so would have been an admission that the Conservatives are looking at another 8-10 more years in opposition.


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06 Oct 98 | Conservative Conference
Just call me Mr Ancram
20 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Ancram 'will enter Tory race'
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