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Wednesday, 22 August, 2001, 19:49 GMT 20:49 UK
Angry Major backs Clarke
Margaret Thatcher and John Major
Lady Thatcher was 'unhelpful', said John Major
John Major has come out in favour of Ken Clarke in the Conservative leadership race while delivering a stinging attack on the legacy of Lady Thatcher.

In an outspoken interview on Wednesday Mr Major said that to attract back non-aligned voters to their cause, Tories had to vote for Mr Clarke who was "infinitely the most experienced candidate".

I think Ken Clarke is the best option for ensuring that we win elections

John Major
But he rounded on Lady Thatcher, who gave her backing to Iain Duncan Smith on Tuesday, accusing her of causing "immense damage" by stoking up rebellion on Europe during his premiership.

The intervention of a second prime minister in as many days came a few hours before the two contenders appeared separately at the first of nine official hustings, where Europe apparently dominated.

Live debate

Later they will take part in the contest's only head-to-head debate, broadcast live on BBC Two's Newsnight and Radio Five Live.

Iain Duncan Smith
Duncan Smith: Brushed off disloyalty claims
In an interview on Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Major said he was backing Mr Clarke above all because he was attractive to voters in the centre ground and was therefore most likely to return the Tories to power.

The former prime minister questioned the "very right-wing" Mr Duncan Smith's ability to inspire loyalty when he was one of the most prominent Eurosceptic rebels that had voted "night after night" with Labour against the Tory government before the 1997 general election.

Thatcher legacy

Mr Major argued that Lady Thatcher, who says Mr Clarke would steer the Tories to disaster, had also been unhelpful during his time in Downing Street as he tried to deal with the economic problems she left behind.

He appreciated she felt very strongly about Europe but added: "I do think it was pretty unprecedented to have a former prime minister to be actively encouraging new young Conservative members of Parliament to vote against an existing Conservative government in the way that Margaret did."

Arguing his party could not defeat Labour from the right wing, Mr Major said he was "sick and tired" of Tories obsessively talking about Europe.

Ken Clarke
Ken Clarke: Welcomed Mr Major's backing
Instead, he urged them to start concentrating on the future and on what the government was doing wrong.

Later, Mr Major denied claims Mr Duncan Smith had been offered a job in his government and had turned it down because of differences over Europe.

But a spokesman for Mr Duncan Smith insisted Greg Knight, a government whip, had asked him to become parliamentary private secretary to Jonathan Aitken.

Mr Duncan Smith himself brushed off Mr Major's attack on his loyalty.

"It was on an issue, I did it with honesty, I didn't attack the government," he told reporters.

"My view is that these are also issues of the past ... I also united behind him, I was on his campaign team on the run to the 1997 election, so his recollections are his own."

Disloyalty claim

It was Mr Clarke who faced accusations of disloyalty from former Tory chairman Lord Tebbit, who accused him of plotting in the final days of Lady Thatcher's premiership in 1990.

"Ken approached me and asked if I would be willing to stand for the leadership of the party with him as my deputy because he said he was entirely comfortable with the policies he felt I would pursue," the Duncan Smith supporter told BBC News.

A spokesman for Mr Clarke said the former chancellor had "absolutely no recollection at all of the conversation Lord Tebbit is talking about".

Mr Clarke - who has also been endorsed by the Daily Mail - welcomed Mr Major's backing, saying his analysis of the task facing the Tories was "important" and "sensible".

And he dismissed as "rubbish" reports on claims of tobacco smuggling by British American Tobacco, of which he is a non-executive deputy chairman.

The BBC's Guto Harri
"Ken Clarke is delighted that his former boss has backed him"
Former Prime Minister, John Major
"We need political leadership that can attract those who deserted us"
Former Conservative chairman Lord Tebbit
"Ken Clarke is the leader Labour want most"

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