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Saturday, 18 August, 2001, 19:54 GMT 20:54 UK
Hague backs Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan Smith's campaign will be boosted by the support
William Hague has endorsed Iain Duncan Smith as his successor as Tory leader, because he fears Kenneth Clarke could split the party over Europe.

The departing leader's seal of approval is expected to provide a boost to Mr Duncan Smith's campaign in the weekend before ballot papers go out to the party's members.

Ken Clarke
Mr Clarke said his rival was "a complete unknown"
Mr Hague's backing is disclosed in a letter to the chairman of his Richmond constituency association, Ron Kirk, obtained by the Sunday Telegraph.

It comes with the leadership contest getting more personal.

Kenneth Clarke launched a strong attack on his rival on Saturday, accusing him of being a "complete unknown" who wanted to take Britain out of the European Union.

Reacting to the news, Mr Duncan Smith said: "It is an honour for my campaign to be endorsed by a man who has such integrity and honesty as William Hague."

Divisions

In his letter, Mr Hague stressed that he believed both candidates were "highly talented".

William Hague
Mr Hague: Concern over split
But he said he had "a particularly high regard for Iain Duncan Smith", praising his "strong and sound beliefs", "integrity and courage" and "highly effective leadership".

He added: "I fear the alternative to his election would be for our party to slide back into the divisions over Europe we have done so much to move away from."

He concluded: "Despite my great respect for Ken Clarke, I will vote for Iain Duncan Smith to be my successor."

A spokesman for Mr Hague's private office confirmed that the letter was genuine.

Mr Duncan Smith's popularity has grown during the course of the campaign, according to a poll in The Sunday Telegraph.

A fifth of Tory voters polled by ICM said they were more likely to back a party led by the shadow defence secretary, compared to 14% for Mr Clarke.

Mr Kirk said: "Clearly, members of our local party will make up their own minds about who to vote for in the leadership contest, but William Hague's preference for Iain Duncan Smith is likely to have a significant bearing on how our local members will vote."

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The BBC's Guto Harri
"William Hague has always been fond of Iain Duncan Smith"

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See also:

15 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Tories enter contest's final stretch
18 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Clarke denies personal tactics
16 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Clarke: I'm best chance for Tories
15 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Tories warned of 'mighty task ahead'
29 Jul 01 | UK Politics
No euro purge says Duncan Smith
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