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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 18:04 GMT 19:04 UK
Thatcher sparks Tory feuding
Lady Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher: Accused of stirring a "bruising" debate
The Conservative Party leadership contest has moved to a bitter new level following the intervention of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

She sparked fresh feuding amongst senior Tories after endorsing Iain Duncan Smith and warning that Ken Clarke would be a "disaster" for the party.

I simply do not understand how Ken could lead today's Conservative Party to anything other than disaster

Lady Thatcher
Lady Thatcher's backing was welcomed by Mr Duncan Smith and his supporters, who echoed her analysis that his rival's views were now obsolete.

But Mr Clarke fought back, making the same accusation of Lady Thatcher's agenda and warning it would put off voters.

He suggested her support for Mr Duncan Smith could even help his campaign to attract Tory members' votes

And he criticised her for making the contest unnecessarily "bruising".

Major intervention?

An extra twist could be on the way too with the intervention of another former Tory prime minister, John Major, who is expected to endorse Mr Clarke.

Later on Wednesday the two contenders will meet in their only face-to-face debate, on BBC Two's Newsnight programme.

Of course she's a very keen Conservative but as she's got older she's got ever more fixed views

Ken Clarke
The new twist in the contest, which has three weeks left to run, was opened by Lady Thatcher with a letter in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph.

She said Mr Duncan Smith would restore the Tories' "faith and fortunes" but Mr Clarke's pro-European views would expose a party weakened by confusion and contradiction.

"Time and again, Europe will be at the forefront of politics," she wrote.

"Time and again, the Conservatives would be exposed as either hopelessly split or deeply cynical - either openly rebelling against their leader or going along with policies which they knew - and which others knew they knew - to be wrong."

Twin endorsement

Mr Duncan Smith welcomed the support and said: "I don't see why anybody should be horrified, because Lady Thatcher was a very successful prime minister."

But he stressed even with her backing and that of outgoing leader William Hague, he wanted to concentrate his leadership pitch on the future.

Ken Clarke
Ken Clarke: Apparently unworried by Lady Thatcher's intervention
However, Mr Clarke hinted her endorsement could boost his campaign, saying: "I don't think her intervention was either surprising nor in every way unhelpful.

"It will focus minds on whether her agenda is the one that's really going to attract back young, floating voters."

He accused her of trying to "hijack" party conferences in recent years and said her appearances in elections were "usually no longer, I'm afraid, our finest moment".

Mr Clarke said Lady Thatcher had made the choice "more stark that it need be" and urged people to say to themselves: "Isn't it about time we gave up listening to that kind of thing and looked to the next general election?'".

Comments 'predictable'

Clarke supporter and shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said Lady Thatcher should keep her views private.

Another Clarke backer, former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine, said the comments were "totally predictable".

Iain Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith: Wants to look to the future
Lord Heseltine told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "Margaret is determined to use what influence she has to stop Ken Clarke, that's the issue."

Duncan Smith supporter Michael Howard, the former home secretary who ran as a leadership candidate in the 1997 contest, insisted Lady Thatcher's attacks on Mr Clarke were not personal.

But he agreed with her claims that Mr Clarke's views were old fashioned and his leadership could give the Tories "very grave difficulties".

"Ken does tend to approach matters on the basis of what happened when he was responsible for various departments and I think the world has moved on from then," he said.

Before Wednesday's Newsnight appearance, both candidates will appear separately at the first hustings meeting of the contest, at lunchtime in central London.

The BBC's Gutto Harri
"Four years ago it was William Hague"
Tory leadership candidate Ken Clarke
"I am not engaging in insults"
Iain Duncan Smith
"She has said that I would be the best leader and I'm grateful for that"
Margaret Thatcher's influence:
Lady Thatcher's former advisor Christopher Monckton and former Tory MP Michael Brown

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