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EDITIONS
Friday, 7 September, 2001, 22:52 GMT 23:52 UK
Tory hopefuls make final pitch
Ken Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith
A bruising campaign is nearing its end
Ken Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith have made a last pitch for the Conservative leadership as the final regional hustings meeting is held in Harrogate.

Both contenders will speak to the conference of party youth wing Conservative Future in Manchester on Saturday.

With almost three-quarters of members' votes already cast, their campaigns are winding down.


The outcome is going to be a moment of opportunity which I think will define politics for the rest of this Parliament

Charles Kennedy
Lib Dem leader
Mr Clarke told the BBC that he believed he had won the contest. Mr Duncan Smith was more reserved and said he had fought a good campaign, but he was not going to predict a winner.

Mr Clarke told BBC News: "I think I've won, and I think I've had the opportunity to put my case to the membership at large about how we get back into mainstream politics."

Mr Duncan Smith said: "I am confident that I have fought the campaign I wanted to fight but I have no idea what the result will be, honestly.

"But I look forward to it one way or the other."

Voting closes at noon on Tuesday but Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has suggested the party is "incapable" of being led, whoever is named leader the following day.

Winner 'immaterial'

Branding the summer-long campaign as "bitter" and "divisive", Mr Kennedy said on Friday the Tory contest had provided an opportunity to redraw the political map.

Speaking as the end nears for the gruelling eight-week race, Mr Kennedy told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was "immaterial" which of the two contenders topped the poll.

He said: "It's not so much now an issue of who is the next leader of the Conservative Party, the question if whether the Conservative Party is capable, or almost psychologically ready, to be led."

Ken Clarke
Clarke says he is "delighted" with the turnout figures
Mr Kennedy suggested his party could be a refuge for any disillusioned Conservatives.

The Lib Dem leader said he saw the election as a crucial turning point for the next five years.

"Once we see the outcome of the Conservative leadership campaign next week, that is going to be a moment of opportunity which I think will define politics for the rest of this Parliament," he said.

In a separate interview with the epolitix website Mr Kennedy said that a victory for Mr Clarke could damage the euro campaign as he would have to be constantly "trimming his views" in order to placate Tory Eurosceptics.

The Lib Dem leader has described his party as the "effective opposition" and both leadership candidates have stressed the need to tackle the Lib Dem threat.

'High turnout'

Mr Clarke says he is best placed to win back voters from both the Lib Dems and Labour while Mr Duncan Smith has pledged to set up a special unit in Conservative Central Office to attack the Lib Dems.

Both men are due to appear separately before party members at the hustings meeting in Harrogate on Friday.

With nearly three-quarters of the 318,000 Tory members' votes already cast, the exercise is unlikely to change the outcome.

Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan Smith will join Mr Clarke in Harrogate
Conservative Central Office announced on Thursday that a total of 235,558 votes have been cast - a turnout of 72% and an increase of 54,000 since last Friday.

The new leader will have less than a month to prepare for this year's Conservative Party conference, which begins in Blackpool on 8 October.

Thatcher to stay away

Lady Thatcher's office said on Friday she had decided not to attend the event "because the new leader deserves a chance to make his mark".

The announcement comes a day after shadow environment secretary Archie Norman said too many Tories were in the "thrall" of the former prime minister as he urged the party to look forward.

During the leadership campaign, Ken Clarke accused the baroness, who is backing Mr Duncan Smith, of trying to "hijack" recent conferences after she predicted he would steer the party to disaster.

There have been reports too that Mr Duncan Smith had asked her to stay away from the conference if he becomes leader so he can take centre stage and focus on the party's future.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"At times it's seemed like a struggle between two different parties"
Charles Kennedy, Liberal Democrat leader
"The question is, is the Conservative party capable of being led?"
The BBC's Becky Milligan
profiles leadership candidate Ken Clarke

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