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Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK

Battle on for Tory leadership

All eyes are on the Tories' most senior players as speculation mounts over who will replace William Hague.

Michael Portillo, shadow chancellor

Conference darling of the party right in the mid-1990s and at one time a favourite of Margaret Thatcher - but support for him is not as strong as it once was. He lost his Enfield Southgate seat as defence secretary in New Labour's first, 1997 landslide. Since then some in his party have been unhappy with his subsequent flirtations with social liberalism, uncomfortable also with his admission of gay experiences in his youth.

Others are not impressed with his acceptance (as Shadow Chancellor) of Labour spending plans in key policy areas and the lack of a radical tax-cutting agenda. Lady Thatcher once said of him "We expect great things of you", but even she is understood to have lost faith. However, there are still a merry band of so-called "Portillistas" who will be loyal to the end; more significant, perhaps, are the recent press reports that Ken Clarke is set to mobilise the Tory Left behind Portillo.

Iain Duncan Smith, shadow defence secretary

One of two current shadow cabinet members to have voted against the Third Reading of the Bill to ratify the Maastricht Treaty, the other being Bernard Jenkin. As a former soldier, he is currently well-placed as shadow defence secretary, but in terms of image, some might say his baldness and sometimes aloof-seeming nature will not help his cause for further advancement: he is often thought of as more of a "thinker" than a "doer".

An active Christian, he is, like Miss Widdecombe, on the more socially authoritarian wing of the party. However, his right-wing credentials are understood to be popular with a number of those likely to be in the new intake who might previously have supported Portillo.

David Davis, chairman of Public Accounts Committee

Not at all well known among the general public - and probably not much better known in the party grassroots - but respected in parliament for his work over the past four years as chairman of the influential Public Accounts Committee. He shunned a frontbench job under Mr Hague in order to harry the government from that backbench position, having served as minister for Europe under John Major.

A confirmed eurosceptic in a Thatcherite mould, there are increasing murmurs of support for him coming from the backbenches, and his odds at the bookies have shortened from 33-1 in December 2000. However, some will recall his stint as a whip, during which time he helped push the bill to ratify the Maastricht Treaty through parliament. He was one of the first to voice support for an English Parliament and the fact he is not burdened with the baggage of working under Mr Hague is almost certainly a point in his favour.

Ken Clarke, former chancellor

Now the most prominent europhile on the Tory benches, he was defeated by Mr Hague for the leadership in 1997. He has the most ministerial experience of any of the leading potential candidates: health secretary under Lady Thatcher; education secretary, home secretary and chancellor under Mr Major. Well-liked amongst the public, but his pro-European views make him unpopular with much of his party, although this did not stop a pact with John Redwood in the final round of the 1997 leadership contest.

On the traditional left of the party, he is president of the Tory Reform Group. His best chance of becoming leader might be after a Yes vote in a Euro referendum, when the internal Tory division on the question would no longer be an issue.

Mr Clarke is still considering whether to join the race.

Ann Widdecombe, shadow home secretary

Took on Mr Portillo's mantle as conference darling in 1998 when she wowed the grassroots members with a tirade on Labour's record on health made without a note. She was then promoted to shadow home secretary in 1999, having served as a junior Home Office minister under former prime minister John Major.

A devout Christian, who converted to Catholicism in protest over women priests, her views are on the socially authoritarian wing of the party: this was more than ably demonstrated when she told the 2000 Tory Conference that she wanted 100 fines for anyone caught possessing any amount of any drug, a policy which was swiftly dumped.

She wanted to run but withdrew rather bitterly when it became obvious not enough MPs would back her.

John Redwood, head of parliamentary campaigns

One of John Major's "bastards", this europhobe Thatcherite resigned as Welsh Secretary in 1995 to take up Mr Major's challenge to "put up or shut up" on the slogan of "no change, no chance". He lost, receiving 89 votes. Again he stood for the leadership in 1997, doing marginally better (third in a field of five) before backing Ken Clarke in the final round - many thought that dream ticket would have soon become a nightmare.

Hague gave him shadow cabinet posts at DTI then DETR, but sacked him in 2000 - a surprise to many observers who thought he was one of the few frontbench Tories scoring hits on the government. Since then, he has been developing his own strand of euroscepticism which sees Britain joining North American Free Trade Association, whilst remaining an EU member. As for the leadership, he might think "third time lucky", but most would probably advise him that he would be deluded to think it could happen now.

Francis Maude, shadow foreign secretary

Like Mr Portillo, has positioned himself on the tolerant, socially liberal wing of the party - his views were probably affected not a little by the death of his gay brother from an Aids-related illness. Has been both shadow chancellor and shadow foreign secretary under Mr Hague, although newspapers have rumoured that he could be replaced after the election by Iain Duncan Smith.

Although a eurosceptic, some do not forgive him for having signed the Maastricht Treaty for Mr Major's government.

As expected, Mr Maude decided to support Mr Portillo rather than stand against him.

Andrew Lansley, shadow cabinet office

Elected to parliament in 1997, he is one of three of that intake to find themselves in the shadow cabinet. He was instrumental in the Listening to Britain policy review exercise after the last election defeat, and has had a wide-ranging brief as shadow cabinet office minister, giving him lots of airtime and column inches in the media.

Originally it was intended that he would write the 2001 manifesto, but the job was given to David Willetts after complaints from shadow cabinet colleagues that he had ignored their submissions to Believing in Britain, which he wrote. Definitely a rising star, but at 44, he seems to be biding his time before thinking about the leadership.

Liam Fox, shadow health secretary

The youngest of the 1992 Conservative intake, Dr Fox was a junior minister under Mr Major and found himself in Mr Hague's shadow cabinet as a constitutional affairs spokesman then as shadow health secretary - appropriately enough for a former GP. His extra-curricular activities tend to provoke more media interest than his political activities, not least because he has been photographed as a companion of soap star turned singer Natalie Imbruglia, who thanks him on the sleeve notes to her debut album.

Michael Ancram, party chairman

A loyal henchman to Mr Hague as party chairman since 1998, having been a spokesman on constitutional affairs during the first year of opposition. He was also a junior minister in Northern Ireland under Mr Major and at the Scottish Office under Lady Thatcher. His political career has suffered from premature termination by the electorate on two occasions - in October 1974 and 1987 when he lost constituencies in Scotland - before finding a safe berth in Devizes in Wiltshire in 1992. Although his job as chairman gives him a higher profile than most with the grassroots, he is not thought of as leadership material.



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