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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Clarke: I'm best chance for Tories
Ken Clarke
Mr Clarke met Tories at the Greater London Authority
Ken Clarke has urged Conservatives to vote for him in the leadership race as the best hope of putting the party back into power.

The former cabinet minister made the declaration as he was boosted by the support of the Tory group leader on the Greater London Authority, Bob Neill.

I take the view that I am the least known candidate and therefore I must be the underdog

Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Clarke said: "I personally like to think that the Conservative Party has the best chance of winning any election if led by myself.

"Everybody taking part in this campaign is concentrating on putting the campaign to the grass roots and to win not just the general election, but every election up to that, because that is a very important part of us getting back to power."

London was a crucial battleground to win on the way to re-igniting national support for the party, he said.

As part of that fight Mr Clarke pledged he would initiate a review of devolution to the mayor and Greater London Authority, if he was elected party leader.

Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan Smith: Says he 'knows nothing' of Thatcher or Hague backing
The comments were on similar territory to that being pursued by his rival for the leadership, Iain Duncan Smith.

He spent Thursday morning discussing local government policy with Tory group leaders from across the country, later heading for private meetings with party members in Wiltshire and Berkshire.

There is press speculation Mr Duncan Smith is set to receive the endorsement of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher and outgoing leader William Hague, who have both remained silent on their preference so far.

Mr Duncan Smith has also been dismissing claims by his rival's supporters that he played a leading role in undermining the last Conservative government, led by John Major.

Hanley attack

The attack, first marshalled by Michael Heseltine, was hammered home by former party chairman Sir Jeremy Hanley in a letter to the Daily Telegraph.

Sir Jeremy Hanley
Sir Jeremy Hanley: Party chairman 1994-95
Sir Jeremy wrote: "Loyal members of the party will recall all too well how Mr Major's government was weakened and undermined by a small band of MPs obsessed with pursuing their own divisive agenda."

"Should we seriously consider rewarding a man with the leadership who showed more loyalty to a small rebellious group in Parliament rather than to his own party just when it needed it?"

Mr Duncan Smith told BBC News that defying the party whip, as he had during votes on the Maastricht Treaty, should not rule him out of the leadership.

Churchill invoked

"The reality is that if we were to judge all leaders on that particular premise we would not have picked in the past Disraeli, Macmillan or Churchill," he said.

"So I think this is a red herring produced by people who are actually concerned about their own position, not about putting positive signals and positive messages to the party membership, which is what I'm doing."

His leadership bid could be boosted further in the next fortnight if he secures the backing of Lady Thatcher and Mr Hague, as reported by the Times.

It quotes a "close ally" of the outgoing leader as saying he considers Mr Clarke would be a "disaster" for the party.

Endorsement 'unknown'

A Conservative Party spokesman said he did not know and could not find out whether Mr Hague was planning to publicly endorse Mr Duncan Smith.

A spokesman for Lady Thatcher said the newspaper report was "speculation" - but it was not ruled out.

"She has genuinely not decided whether she will say anything in this contest," the spokesman said.

"Four years ago she only said something on the eve of the poll because she thought the John Redwood-Ken Clarke proposition was wrong."

The BBC's Reeta Chakrabarti
"The leadership campaign has already got better"

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See also:

15 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Clarke allies rebut split claims
15 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Tories warned of 'mighty task ahead'
30 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Clarke: Euro poll not party political
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
17 Jul 01 | Talking Point
Who should lead the Tories?
01 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Clarke wins over Portillo backers
02 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Candidates back Duncan Smith
15 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Tories enter contest's final stretch
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