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Monday, 20 August, 2001, 09:06 GMT 10:06 UK
Tory leadership ballot begins
Iain Duncan Smith and Ken Clarke
Ballot papers for the Conservative Party leadership election are being sent out on Monday as the contest heats up.

Mailshots from the two leadership challengers, Ken Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith, will go out with the ballots to around 300,000 party members who have three weeks to cast their votes.

Iain Duncan Smith is the better of the two candidates to unite the Conservative Party and to focus on the bread and butter issues

John Bercow
Conservative MP
In his mailshot, Mr Duncan Smith suggests his rival could not unite the party because of his pro-European views while Mr Clarke argues only he can reach the wider support needed to win the next general election.

After a weekend that saw outgoing Tory leader William Hague endorse Mr Duncan Smith, Mr Clarke's campaign is bolstered on Monday by the backing of 60 business leaders in a letter to the Financial Times.

The leadership ballot is being overseen by the Electoral Reform Society and is open to those who have been Conservative Party members for more than three months.

Members have until noon on 11 September to return their ballot papers, and the winner should be announced the following day.

Europe flashpoint

While Iain Duncan Smith is launching a manifesto on Monday, supporters of Ken Clarke say it is far too early to draw up such a document.

Instead, the former chancellor has been outlining his broad principles and talking about how the party must change in preparation for government.

The mailshots both men are sending to party members cover a range of policy areas but it is the issue of Europe that proved the highest profile flashpoint on Sunday.

Mr Clarke challenged his rival to commit publicly to British membership of the European Union.

William Hague
Mr Hague is backing Iain Duncan Smith
He told BBC One's Breakfast with Frost programme that Mr Duncan Smith's European policy amounted to little more than "a euphemism for leaving the EU".

"For as long as I have known Iain, he has always argued vehemently that we should renegotiate the basis of the treaties and leave if we can't renegotiate them," said the former chancellor.

Mr Duncan Smith's supporters said this claim was "complete rubbish", insisting: "Iain has never, ever contemplated Britain leaving the European Union."

Ignorance claim

Rentokil chief executive Sir Clive Thompson, one of the 60 business leaders who signed Monday's letter backing Mr Clarke, accused Mr Duncan Smith of "crass ignorance" in attempting to forge closer links with the North Atlantic Free Trade Associaton.

Sir Clive Thompson
Thompson: Accused Duncan Smith of crass ignorance
"In practice you cannot be a member of NAFTA without pulling out of the European Union, I think commercially it would be rather stupid," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He argued Mr Clarke was somebody with the appeal to become prime minister.

But Duncan Smith-supporter, John Bercow, Conservative MP for Buckingham, insisted: "There is no question of pulling out of the EU.

"It is certainly the case that Iain wants to explore closer transatlantic trade links. It is a perfectly respectable position."

'Bread and butter' focus

Mr Bercow continued: "There is a powerful case to be made that Iain Duncan Smith is the better of the two candidates to unite the Conservative Party, to focus on the bread and butter issues which are of most interest to most voters most of the time and to offer a distinctive alternative type of politics to that which is characterised by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown."

Many Tories are said to be unimpressed by either candidate and have failed so far to declare a preference.

Shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude, who ran Michael Portillo's leadership campaign, warned on Sunday that the party risked becoming the third party after the next election if it did not change itself.

The BBC's Guto Harri
"It is a relentless charm offensive"
On the Today programme:
former president of the CBI Sir Clive Thompson and Tory MP John Bercow

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The final two


See also:

19 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Clarke 'not surprised' by Hague snub
19 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Tory rivals prepare for ballot
18 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Hague backs Duncan Smith
18 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Clarke denies personal tactics
17 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Lib Dems welcome 'wipe out' threat
16 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Clarke: I'm best chance for Tories
15 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Tories enter contest's final stretch
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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