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Monday, 30 July, 2001, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Clarke: Euro poll not party political
Iain Duncan Smith and Ken Clarke
The candidates will soon start a two-week ceasefire
A referendum on Britain joining the single European currency will not be party political, according to Conservative leadership contender Ken Clarke.

The former chancellor was seeking to play down the importance of the euro issue as he campaigned for the votes of Tory party members in the north-west, while rival Iain Duncan Smith targeted Devon.

The issue of Europe is seen as a key reason why the fiercely Eurosceptic Mr Duncan Smith topped Daily Telegraph survey suggesting that Tory activists backed him by an overwhelming 8-1 margin.

But both camps played down Monday's poll, which was self-selecting and could have been manipulated.

Survey support

It also contradicts a run of national surveys which have suggested Mr Clarke is more popular with the wider electorate.

The Telegraph newspaper invited Tory activists to express their preference by telephone, fax or email.

About 3,000 of the 3,500 who responded gave a firm choice, with 88.4% favouring Mr Duncan Smith and 11.6% Mr Clarke.

Sheep are slaughtered in Cumbria
Cumbria has been hard hit by foot-and-mouth
More than a quarter of Mr Duncan Smith's supporters said they would leave the party if the former chancellor won the ballot of all 330,000 Tory members on 12 September.

Mr Duncan Smith's spokeswoman said his campaign team would only be looking at the poll on 12 September.

"You cannot put too much store by polls, certainly not a poll that is not tremendously scientific," she said.

And the poll was dismissed by Mr Clarke as he went to Kendal, Cumbria, on the eighth day of a national tour. He said: "I don't actually know how it is going to go in this election but I am quite certain that I am more than 50% likely to be ahead."

Mr Clarke argued that by speaking "all the time" about Europe, his party had turned voters away from listening to it on other issues.

Tories on both sides

"The referendum will not be a party political issue," he said.

"The Yes campaign and the No campaign will not want the campaigns to be taken over by the political parties because there will be Conservatives on both sides of the argument and there will be Labour voters on both sides of the argument and the referendum will settle it."

He saw no reason why the prime minister and the leader of the opposition could not be on the same side in the vote, as they had in the 1975 referendum on joining the Common Market.

Trawlermen bring in the nets
Duncan Smith will meet Devon fishermen
Mr Clarke also used his visit to Cumbria, one of the areas worst hit by foot-and-mouth, to criticise government handling of the crisis and call for a public inquiry.

Iain Duncan Smith has said he will tolerate euro-supporters in the party.

But on Sunday he said: "The only extreme position on Europe is to take a fundamentally different line from the majority of the party and then ask them to break up over the issue."

Listening to local issues

The shadow defence secretary was visiting a residential care home in Exeter on Monday before meeting local activists in the area.

Later, he was travelling to Plymouth to speak to representatives of the fishing industry and small businesses.

His spokeswoman said: "Iain is here to listen - he is seeing what the local issues are."

A mutually agreed truce between the two contenders in the leadership campaign is due to start on Wednesday to allow both hopefuls time for a holiday.

Ballot papers for the contest are expected to be sent from London to party members on 15 August.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's political correspondent Tim Franks
"The language between the two candidates is sharpening"
Leadership candidate Kenneth Clarke
"I think Conservative members want to get back to winning elections"

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See also:

29 Jul 01 | UK Politics
No euro purge says Duncan Smith
26 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Duncan Smith admits underdog status
19 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Clarke and Duncan Smith battle on
25 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Tory hopefuls take to hustings
17 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Picture gallery: Tory leadership
17 Jul 01 | Talking Point
Who should lead the Tories?
26 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Clarke ahead among ordinary voters
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