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Last Updated: Monday, 13 June, 2005, 08:02 GMT 09:02 UK
'Too many' after Tory leader job
Tim Yeo
Mr Yeo has not yet thrown his hat into the ring
Potential Conservative leadership candidate Tim Yeo has suggested there are too many contenders in the running for the party's top job.

At least eight MPs have been named as possible successors to Michael Howard.

Mr Yeo said the "plethora of would-be leaders" from the more liberal wing of the party should support one person.

However, David Davis, the bookies' favourite to become party leader, said the number of candidates should not be the primary concern.

Mr Yeo told BBC Radio 4's The Westminster Hour he expected the field of contenders would be down to a maximum of three by the summer recess.

I think any leader of the Conservative party, whoever it might be, has to command support both in the parliamentary party and in the party in the country
David Davis

Mr Yeo, himself seen as a one of the more socially-liberal Tories, said the party needed to show the "brand has changed even though our principles have not".

That would prove a challenge for any leader, he added.

"I think by the time the house rises for the summer recess in the middle of July, we will find the field has narrowed down probably to a maximum of three candidates by then," he said.

"It would be helpful if the plethora of would-be leaders around at the moment can coalesce around one person. I think that will give us a better chance of a good contest in the interests of the party and the country."

'Unity candidate'

But shadow home secretary Mr Davis - seen by many as on the right of the party - said he did not think there were too many candidates in the race.

"I'm not worried about that," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"What I want to see at the end of this outcome, whoever leads, is that they lead for all the party and they lead as a unity candidate, that they lead a shadow cabinet of all the talents."

Asked if he would prefer an earlier leadership election, widely predicted to take place in the autumn, Mr Davis said he would just wait the process through.

"I think any leader of the Conservative Party, whoever it might be, has to command support both in the parliamentary party and in the party in the country," he said.

"However we arrive at that, I don't mind."

'Nasty' tag dropped

Mr Davis, who is thought to be popular with grassroots Tories, failed to gather enough support from Tory MPs to make it through to the ballot of party members in the 2001 leadership election contest.

But he told Today he did not think Mr Howard should step down earlier than Christmas, when his departure is expected.

"I think he earned the right, in a formidable campaign, to choose his own time," he said.

Shadow Culture Secretary Theresa May - who has declined to say if she is planning to stand - told the BBC she no longer thought people perceived the Conservatives as the "nasty party".

But she believed they should connect more with voters.

A number of names are in the frame to succeed Mr Howard but former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind is the only one to say he is likely to be a candidate.

Among those also thought to be considering standing for the position are Kenneth Clarke, Liam Fox, Alan Duncan and David Cameron.

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