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Sunday, 10 June, 2001, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK

Widdecombe urged to run

Ann Widdecombe has become the first senior Conservative to confirm she is considering standing for the Tory leadership.

" I've got to take soundings and just see how wide the support is "
Ann Widdecombe

The shadow home secretary told BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme that several people had pressed her to stand and she was now trying to gauge the breadth of support.

"There are quite a lot of people who would like me to run but that does not mean I can just jump in," she said.

"I have got to take soundings, just see how wide that support is, consider what I've got to offer.

"It would be very premature to make any decision now."

Miss Widdecombe earmarked the need for a "big initiative" linking urban regeneration to law and order as she called for a major review of Tory policies.

The need for that overhaul of policy was underlined too by former party chairman Chris Patten, who said the Tories "must be a broad church and not a narrow sect."

He said whoever was elected leader needed to bring together both pro and anti-euro Tories.

Focus on Clarke

Both Mr Patten and former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister Lord (Michael) Heseltine have backed Ken Clarke for the leadership.

Miss Widdecombe has said she would include former chancellor Mr Clarke in her shadow cabinet, which should be very broad based.

But she appeared to take a swipe at Michael Portillo, still the favourite to succeed William Hague, saying now was not the time to go away and hide because of being afraid about being asked about the leadership.

Mr Portillo is in Morocco for a short holiday but newspaper reports suggest he will announce his wish to lead the party next week.

Peter Lilley, who challenged for the Tory leadership in 1997, seemed to move leadership challenges from "social authoritarian" Conservatives like Miss Widdecombe and Iain Duncan Smith.

Whoever succeeded Mr Hague should be "more libertarian and less authoritarian", said Mr Lilley - remarks which will be seen to favour Mr Portillo.

That line was echoed by shadow social security secretary David Willetts and by shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo, who declined to rule himself out of a future leadership contest.

Mr Willetts said when people became "fed up" with Labour they would want more freedom and to be "treated like grown ups". There is continuing speculation that shadow chancellor Mr Portillo and Mr Clarke could team up to offer the Tories a so-called "dream ticket".

Europe divisions

While the Tories avoided public division over Europe for much of William Hague's leadership, the battle over who will succeed him has seen them re-emerge.

In what will be seen as a tactic to stop the Mr Clarke launching a leadership attempt, shadow trade secretary David Heathcoat-Amory said: "The party cannot be run from what you might call a pro-euro stance. Too much has happened since then."

" I think Europe is the running sore that we have to cure, maybe Ken can cure it, I don't know "
John Maples
Former shadow cabinet minister

Hardline Eurosceptic Sir Teddy Taylor went further, denouncing the pro-Europeans as "clowns and idiots" who had presided over "the collapse of Tory support".

And another leading Eurosceptic, Staffordshire MP Bill Cash maintained it was "ridiculous" for Mr Clarke even to be in the shadow cabinet and be allowed to campaign in favour of Britain entering the single currency.

But other Tories, including Mr Patten and Lord Heseltine, are calling for a truce on Europe.

John Maples, whom William Hague sacked from his shadow cabinet, argued the issue was the "running sore" the party had to cure - saying Mr Clarke had to show how he would unite Tories on the issue.

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