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Steadying influence at the top of the Tory Party
Steadying influence at the top of the Tory Party

Michael Ancram has been a loyal and steadying influence at the top of the Tory Party for two leaders now - first John Major, then William Hague.

But he had never really been seen as ever likely to take the top job himself. In the race to inherit the Tory crown, he fell at the first hurdle - the first candidate to be eliminated from the contest.

Ancram's moderate, courteous style aided his bid to be the "unity" candidate, with the former Northern Ireland minister promising no dramatic rush into sweeping policy changes. Critics said he was simply the "no change" candidate.

The emollient earl launched his doomed campaign with an unmistakable - and uncharacteristic - sideswipe at a rival, Michael Portillo.

With the Tories in a state of trauma, it was "no time to seek to match spin with spin or stardust with stardust" or to "strike out against the grain of our party or traditions", he said.

If Ancram had made it all the way, his would almost certainly have been something of a caretaker leadership to allow the party lengthier period of calm reflection on its second successive crushing at the polls.

Far better, according to this scenario, to have Ancram calmly guide his traumatised party out of intensive care and into a fitter state for the next-but-one leader to take over and then aim realistically for Downing Street.

But Ken Clarke's late entry into the race was probably a fatal blow to Ancram's challenge as both men sought to mop up the mainstream vote. And although Ancram did not share his rival's "Europe problem", Clarke stormed ahead from the start.

Audio/Video Clips
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All five candidates head-to-head on Question Time
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The former party chairman sets out his vision
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Michael Ancram announces his candidature, with a swipe at Michael Portillo
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