Page last updated at 20:48 GMT, Wednesday, 29 October 2003

The likely contenders


By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

One of the greatest dilemmas facing those Tories plotting to depose Iain Duncan Smith was selecting a candidate to succeed him.

Any number of names have been bandied about over the past few weeks - one of whom, David Davis, has already ruled himself out of the race, saying he will back Michael Howard.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin, who has always insisted he doesn't want the job, has also said he wants Mr Howard to stand, as has frontbencher Liam Fox.

There has been much talk of deals being hammered out between candidates - with one standing as leader and the other his deputy - to unite the party and avert a ballot of the entire membership.

Here are some of the bookies' favourites for the leadership - minus those who have already ruled out a challenge since Mr Duncan Smith's defeat.

Michael Howard:

The former home secretary is one of the genuine Tory heavyweights who can still send a shiver down the government's spine.

Michael Howard
Michael Howard was famously condemned by Ann Widdecombe
He draws support from the centre and the right, and has remained a consistent sceptic on the issue of Europe.

Fellow Tory MP Ann Widdecombe famously suggested that "there was something of the night" about him.

It is believed that he would be popular with grassroots members.

William Hill's odds: 11-10 fav

Kenneth Clarke:

The man most, even many of his enemies, talk of as the "natural leader".

He stood in the 1997 leadership contest after John Major stood down, but lost out to William Hague.

Kenneth Clarke
Kenneth Clarke's pro-European views are unpalatable to some Tories
He stood again in 2001 and was backed by more of the parliamentary party than Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Portillo.

But when he went forward to the wider Tory party membership in a straight contest with Iain Duncan Smith, he lost out. Many commentators suggested that this was because of his pro-euro views.

It is possible that he lost some parliamentary allies because of his stance on Iraq and he has continued to be pro-euro.

William Hill's odds: 10-1

Michael Portillo:

Often viewed as the most charismatic of the potential leaders.

His band of "Portallistas" come from the modernising wing of the party, pursuing a more inclusive and liberal agenda.

He came a close third in the 2001 leadership ballot among Tory MPs. Many Tories believe that he and his aides have become particularly divisive to the party.

Recently questioned as to whether Mr Duncan Smith would still be leader at Christmas, Mr Portillo said he could not say.

William Hill's odds: 7-1

Theresa May:

The current Tory chairman (her choice of title) rocked the 2002 party conference by insisting it was seen as the "nasty party".

That and her inevitably exotic footwear have made her the closest the Tories can get to a household name.

She is a moderniser who is said to have differences with Mr Duncan Smith.

Despite persistent whispers that he is ready to sack her, she remains a popular figure with many.

But maybe not as the Tories' second woman leader or prime minister.

William Hill's odds: 16-1

Michael Ancram:

Toff-u-like "Mr" Ancram stood last time as the unity candidate, but not for long.

Everyone warms to the Earl of Ancram but, while he cannot be ruled out as a runner should a contest take place, he would again be an outsider.

William Hill's odds: 16-1

Tim Yeo

Tim Yeo is being talked of as a possible candidate of the centre-left, modernising section of the parliamentary party if Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo do not stand.

His career, when the Conservatives were in power, was one of steady progress, serving as a parliamentary private secretary to Douglas Hurd and then as a junior minister in the Departments of Health and the Environment.

He has been in the shadow cabinet under both William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith despite his strong support for Michael Portillo's leadership bid.

One of the more socially-liberal Conservatives, he became shadow trade and industry secretary in the latest shadow cabinet reshuffle.

William Hill's odds: 16-1

Eric Forth:

The shadow leader of the Commons is a formidable performer who loves Parliament and gives the government - and occasionally his own side - bad dreams.

A libertarian with robust views, he would give the Tories a rollercoaster ride.

Nobody has any idea whether he would ever stand for the job, however.

William Hill's odds: none offered

The rest:

The great/disastrous thing about the recently imposed leadership rules is that virtually anyone can have a chance.

That means it is impossible to predict who may and who may not eventually throw their hats into the ring.

Former challenger John Redwood, front bencher Tim Collins, plus former front bencher Andrew Lansley - and even arch Eurosceptic Bill Cash have been talked of as possible contenders.

None of them have done anything to encourage this sort of gossip but the fact that so many names have been bandied about is a clear sign of the feverish atmosphere in Westminster.



video and audio news
David Davis MP, Conservative
"In recent years, our party has been driven by division"


John Maples MP, Conservative
"There was never really a plot"



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