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Monday, 27 August, 2001, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
'Nastiest ever' Tory leadership battle
Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe
Widdecombe advises a review of leadership contests
The contest between Iain Duncan Smith and Kenneth Clarke for the Tory party leadership is probably the "nastiest" in memory, according to Ann Widdecombe.

The shadow home secretary said even the contest which followed the demise of Margaret Thatcher had been a "very gentlemanly affair" despite emotions running very high.

I think we do need, when all this is over, to work out exactly how we are going to manage one of these in the future

Ann Widdecombe, shadow home secretary
Lady Thatcher and John Major have added to the acrimony of the contest with their interventions and Miss Widdecombe suggested such former prime ministers should stay silent during leadership elections.

Acting Conservative chairman David Prior has also raised concerns about the tone of the leadership race, accusing his party of "straying" from issues that matter to voters.

Review needed

Miss Widdecombe, who is backing Mr Clarke, argued her party should carry out a review of how its leadership battles are conducted once the current contest is over.

Former prime minister Margaret Thatcher
'Gentlemanly' leadership battle after Thatcher
Miss Widdecombe told BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour: "On the one hand I take a sense of proportion and say right, it has been very difficult, it has been a bit nasty.

"But on the other hand the general election is four to five years away and nobody would seriously say that it would be these events that will determine how people vote.

Future contests

"But on the other hand I also ask myself, well hang on, how would we be faring if unusual circumstances combined and we were having to have one of these elections only a year before a general election?

"And I think we do need, when all this is over, to work out exactly how we are going to manage one of these in the future because, of course, it is the first time that we haven't had simply to convince each other behind closed doors at Westminster."

Asked whether she believed the current contest was the nastiest she had witnessed, Miss Widdecombe said: "I certainly think that in terms of the relentless publicity for it, the answer to that is probably yes.

I think the arguments about the past and about personalities should never have started and should cease

David Prior
Acting Tory chairman
Lady Thatcher has declared her support for Iain Duncan Smith, warning Ken Clarke would steer the Tories to disaster.

In contrast, John Major is backing his former chancellor and has turned his fire on the legacy Lady Thatcher left him.

Their interventions worried Miss Widdecombe, who said: "There used to be a convention in our party to which I think we should return, which is that former leaders, former prime ministers did not get involved in leadership elections.

"The problem is that once one starts, you let everyone off the leash."

'Avoid past and personalities'

In an interview published in Monday's Financial Times, acting Tory chairman David Prior hinted at his concerns about the former leaders' words.

"My advice to both candidates is to focus on the issues ... the arguments about the issues should continue," he said.

"I think the arguments about the past and about personalities should never have started and should cease."

But Mr Prior also suggested "some good as well as bad" could come out of the leadership race.

"This if the first time in the history of the Conservative Party that we've had such a degree of interest in who will be the next leader and the policies that they'll have."

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The final two


See also:

23 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Tory feuding goes on
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