Clarke eliminated in Tory leadership race

Davis, Cameron and Fox win through to the next round as the Europhile former Chancellor falls at the first hurdle

The votes cast in the first ballot of MPs were:
David Davis 62
David Cameron 56
Liam Fox 42
Kenneth Clarke 38

The remaining three contenders are due now to go into a second ballot of MPs - to be held on Thursday - to decide which two will go forward to the final ballot of the entire party membership.

David Davis, who had been hoping for 66 or 67 votes, said that there had obviously been some tactical voting but "the highest number of Conservative MPs have selected me as their first choice".

He called on Conservative MPs to give a "clear steer" in the second ballot about the man they wanted to lead the party.

David Cameron said that it was a better result than he had expected and described it as "very pleasing". He would be calling on Mr Clarke and his supporters to support him in the next round.

Mr Davis's loss of support will encourage hopes among the campaign team of fellow right-winger Dr Fox, who said that a lot of votes would be moving around over the next few days. He added: "I am delighted to have polled well above predictions."

For Ken Clarke, it was a humiliating end to his long-standing dream of leading the Conservative Party. It was supposed to be third time lucky for the self-styled "Big Beast" of the contest.

He gave no immediate message of which of the remaining three he would now support, but did say of the defeat at the hands of his fellow MPs: "It sends the message that they are looking for a younger leader."

For much of the summer it looked like Mr Clarke could finally achieve his ambition at the age of 65.

After announcing he would definitely run, the former Chancellor quickly established himself as the key challenger to David Davis.

At the annual party conference he joked: "We search for leaders who will be seen by the public as prime ministers in waiting. Oh boy, have you kept me waiting."

But by then he was already being eclipsed by moderniser David Cameron, who was picking up support from centre-left MPs who would once have automatically fallen in behind Mr Clarke.

The shadow education secretary's tender years only served to highlight the sense that Mr Clarke, the oldest contender, had had his day.

A veteran of the Thatcher and Major governments, he served as health secretary, education secretary and home secretary as well as commanding the Treasury.

Mr Clarke is widely credited with leaving Chancellor Gordon Brown a " golden legacy" when Labour's victory turfed him out of 11 Downing Street in 1997.

However, he was criticised for returning to the backbenches in Opposition after failing to become leader instead of joining the Tory frontbench.

His famously laid-back style coupled with a love of beer, cigars and jazz set him apart from other senior politicians.

But it was his pro-European views that created a gulf with his party and did for previous leadership bids.

In 1997, MPs rejected him in favour of the youthful William Hague even though Mr Clarke led in the early rounds.

In 2001, he lost out to Iain Duncan Smith in a ballot of party activists after topping the Parliamentary poll.

With euro membership off the agenda and the Europe Union's constitution in ruins, polls suggested activists hungry for electoral success were prepared to back him this time.

Mr Clarke capitalised on this, stressing his broad appeal to voters while talking down his pro-Europe views.

MPs initially looked set to give him the chance and put him in the final two against Davis.

That, though, was before Cameron catapulted himself into pole position with the bookies with his dazzling conference performance and sucked up centre-left support in his wake.

Mr Clarke warned there would be "a good deal of ill feeling" among activists if he did not make the final ballot.

With colleagues on the green benches happy to take that risk there seems little prospect of a shadow cabinet return, leaving Mr Clarke more time to devote to his controversial tobacco industry interests.