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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Duncan Smith denies extremist support
Iain Duncan Smith
Duncan Smith says campaign reports are getting "silly"
Conservative leadership challenger Iain Duncan Smith has denied reports that he dropped a Tory MP from his campaign because of links to the party's right-wing Monday Club.

His dismissal of suggestions he was again attracting support from the more extreme parts of the centre-right came as he and rival Ken Clarke took to the campaign trail with just two weeks to go before voting closes.

Iain and I have discovered that this protracted process is very difficult

Ken Clarke
Basingstoke MP Andrew Hunter, deputy chairman of the Monday Club, also tried to defuse the row by stressing he had never been on the shadow defence secretary's campaign team in the first place.

And he insisted he disagreed with the Monday Club's support for the controversial policy of encouraging financial help for the voluntary repatriation of immigrants.

Voluntary repatriation was advocated last week by sacked Duncan Smith campaigner Edgar Griffin, whose close links to the far-right British National Party also got him expelled from the Tories.

'Silly claims'

As race relations continued to feature highly on the campaign agenda, Mr Duncan Smith too said Mr Hunter had never actually been part of his campaign team.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This is getting rather silly isn't it.

Andrew Hunter, MP for Basingstoke
Hunter says the Monday Club holds mainstream views
"The idea that you have all sorts of guilt by association with somebody who is involved with a legitimate group... is ridiculous. It [the Monday Club] is not a political party."

He insisted that while Conservative Party members could not be associated with other political parties, it would be "an end to democracy" to stop debate.

Later, a spokesman for Mr Duncan Smith said Mr Hunter was a campaign supporter only during the parliamentary stage of the leadership election process.

"He is not active now. Iain has never had any dealings with the Monday Club, he has never spoken to them, he has not asked for their endorsement."

Website lists

Mr Hunter said although his name was not on one "incomplete" list of supporters on the Duncan Smith campaign website it did feature on another containing only the names of MPs.

"My name has not been removed from lists, is still on the website as one of Iain's supporters," he told BBC Radio 4's World At One.

"Secondly, I was never a member of his campaign team and therefore have not been dropped from it."

Ken Clarke on the campaign trail in Nottinghamshire on Monday
Clarke is still hunting members' votes
Mr Hunter, who also has links to the right-wing magazine Right Now!, said he did not agree with the Monday Club's view on voluntary repatriation, although he did support a scheme already in place to help the passage of some people to their countries of origin.

He said Mr Duncan Smith should have not any problem with anyone connected to club.

"The Monday Club is overwhelmingly mainstream in its beliefs and views," insisted Mr Hunter, stressing the club's membership was "multi-cultural and multi-religion".

Mr Hunter said both Right Now! and the club had been victims of "left-wing demonisation".

Long haul

The claims surrounding Mr Hunter came ahead of the third of nine regional hustings meetings in Cheltenham.

Both candidates have complained the eight-week contest - which ends on 11 September - is far too long.

Mr Duncan Smith' said "never again" should two Conservatives have to go through such a "grinding campaign"

Clarke sideswipe

Echoing those comments on Tuesday his rival said that "this protracted process is very difficult".

But he also added: "There have been the embarrassments of discovering that we have BNP people being harboured by a Conservative Association in Wales and I think now is a good time to get rid of the others like that."

Bookmakers William Hill said at 2/9 contest favourite Mr Duncan Smith now has the shortest odds of any contender in the whole contest.

The firm says Mr Clarke's odds have drifted from 2/1 to 11/4.

The BBC's Nick Robinson
"Ken Clarke's camp are really turning up the volume"
Sir George Young, Ken Clarke supporter
"There still is everything to play for"

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See also:

28 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Tory party 'must exclude racists'
27 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Duncan Smith: Tories open to all
27 Aug 01 | UK Politics
'Nastiest ever' Tory leadership battle
24 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Tory grandees 'failed' to vet Griffin
23 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Tory feuding goes on
17 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Lib Dems welcome 'wipe out' threat
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