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Wednesday, 12 September, 2001, 17:22 GMT 18:22 UK
Low-key end to high-stakes Tory race
William Hague's waxwork at Madame Tussauds
William Hague's waxwork is removed from Madame Tussaud's
Nyta Mann

As a mark of respect following the terrorist attacks on the US, there will be no fanfare on Thursday when the Conservative Party finally gets its new leader.

Whether it is Ken Clarke or Iain Duncan Smith who wears the Tory crown, the coronation will be a low-key affair.

The result will be announced on the pavement outside the Tories' Smith Square HQ
Within hours of the devastation visited on Manhattan and Washington, Conservative plans to unveil their new leader at a showpiece event in central London's QEII centre were cancelled.

His victory will instead be announced from the pavement outside Conservative Central Office, from where he also utter his first public words as leader of Her Majesty's opposition.

Statesmanlike approach required

But the emergency recall of parliament on Friday means the Tory leader will have less than 24 hours before being thrust into a situation demanding a non-partisan, statesmanlike approach.

Much sooner than expected, he has his first face-to-face encounter with Prime Minister Tony Blair over the despatch box when MPs debate the attacks.

Tory leadership turnout
Total membership - 328,271
Estimated ballots returned - 259, 139
Turnout - 79%
The untypical occasion demands that his Commons debut is not one that shows how good a parliamentary duffing-up he can inflict on the prime minister.

In the current atmosphere almost of international mourning, he must instead sum up and express the sombre mood of the country in a non-partisan manner.

Swift return to normal service

Normal service will be swiftly resumed, though, and it won't be long before the new opposition leader faces bitter political foes determined to do him down. Just as long as it takes him on Friday to travel the short distance from the Commons to Tory Central Office, in fact.

If Ken Clarke wins, the "headbangers" will not rest easy
Lord (Douglas) Hurd put it starkly over the weekend: if Iain Duncan Smith wins he should not, given the Eurosceptic's long record of rebellion, expect "automatic loyalty" from pro-Europeans on the Tory benches.

If Ken Clarke emerges the winner, few expect the Eurosceptic "headbangers" who detest his views to lie back and think of the party while he seeks to pursue a policy that walks a (near-impossible?) tightrope between his own, pro-euro leanings and those of most of his MPs.

And then there is the electoral Everest the Tories have to climb if they are to have a hope of even coming close to challenging Labour's strength in the Commons, never mind win a parliamentary majority.

So whichever of the two gets to follow William Hague, once he is behind the doors of his suite of offices at Tory HQ he could be forgiven for wondering what on earth he has let himself in for - and why.

Turnout better than Blair's

But there are a few reasons for the new leader to be if not exactly cheerful, at least not plunged into complete gloom.

If Iain Duncan Smith gets it, how will the onetime persistent rebel demand loyalty?
Despite criticism that the contest has dragged on for three months, the unprecedented role of ordinary Tory members in deciding the leader, albeit from a shortlist chosen by MPs, has been an unalloyed success.

A party that until very recently only vaguely knew who and where its members were, can now put their official number at 328,271 - the total number of ballot papers issued.

That number has crept up from the 318,000 claimed just a few weeks ago due to "uncounted" rank and file members demanding voting papers in the course of the contest, according to a party spokesman.

The eve-of-result estimated turnout of 79%, to be confirmed when official count takes place, is also a triumph - higher than the 70% turnout of Labour's rank and file members in the leadership contest won by Mr Blair in 1994.

The high level of participation will make the new Conservative leader the first in the party's history to be able to claim the democratic mandate of its members, rather than MPs or a small elite of grandees or MPs.

On the rocky road ahead for the man who on Thursday emerges victorious on the Smith Square pavement, that mandate is likely to prove a useful political shield against the in-fighting along the way.


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