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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2005, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
Where will Tories go now?
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

If the energy created by political activity could be plugged into the national grid there would currently be enough to keep every light bulb in the Commons burning for a month.

David Cameron
Cameron's campaign has gained momentum
The entire Palace of Westminster appears to be vibrating with an ambient buzz generated by the plotting of the rival Tory leadership campaign teams.

With only three candidates now left in the race to replace Michael Howard, and with the behaviour of the voters near impossible to accurately predict, the cajoling, arm twisting and even bribing (with job promises) has reached critical mass.

It is impossible to walk any corridor or passageway in the palace of Westminster without spotting little groups of MPs locked in deep conversation, interrupted by occasional outbursts of laughter.

Most of the real campaigning is going on in private, either behind closed doors - as MPs are invited to meet would-be leaders and their teams - or in the tea rooms, bars and restaurants where prying eyes cannot stray.

But there is a genuine atmosphere of excitement amongst Tory MPs, boosted by the sense that they might just be on the verge of doing something important, something of greater significance than the recently routine task of electing a new leader.

Recent trials

This time there is a crackle of anticipation amongst Tory MPs that they might be about to ditch an entire generation and start the process of renewal they have all talked about.

And along with that goes a near palpable fear that they might also be about to take a leap in the dark by electing an untried, high-risk "youngster".

Liam Fox, Ken Clarke and David Cameron, from left to right, at Conservative Party conference
Fox and Cameron are seen as new generation
Much of this anticipation centres around the young moderniser David Cameron whose recent trials over his own past behaviour appear to have actually strengthened his position.

Many now believe he is certain to go through Thursday's second vote of MPs and be one of the two men to be put before the party membership for the final election as leader.

His campaign team believe they will win over the vast majority, if not all of Ken Clarke's former supporters, and even a number from the David Davis and Liam Fox camps.

That hope has been boosted with the like of Clarke supporter Sir Malcolm Rifkind offering his support and new MP Adam Holloway already defecting from the Davis camp.

Credibility

But the other young contender, Liam Fox, also believes he can capitalise on his own good showing in the first round and the apparent desire to skip a generation.

With frontrunner David Davis apparently stalled, at best, Dr Fox's team believe many of his supporters will sniff the wind and switch to their man.

The smart money still seems to be on a Cameron-Davis run off which, if the surveys are anything to go by, suggest an eventual Cameron win.

But all this must be accompanied by a huge health warning that speculating over the way Tory MPs and grassroots members will vote is seriously dangerous for one's credibility.





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