Hague claims local support

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The Independent Online
William Hague's campaign team is claiming that up to 70 per cent of Conservative Association chairmen back him for leadership of the party, amid scenes of growing rebellion among grassroot activists at their exclusion from a direct say on who becomes leader.

Meanwhile, Michael Howard's election team was planning to step up its campaign with a move into the Westminster home of Jonathan Aitken, the former Treasury minister, planned for this weekend.

The Howard campaign will be based in Lord North Street, a few doors from the house where, in 1995, BT engineers were spotted installing telephone lines for a possible leadership bid fby Michael Portillo.

Mr Aitken resigned as a minister to fight allegations of sleaze, and lost his seat in the election. He has no vote, but is a close friend of the Howards.

Mr Howard and his wife, the former model Sandra Paul, have a London house, in addition to the grace-and-favour flat in Belgravia, where Mr Howard struck the aborted deal over champagne with Mr Hague to act as his running mate this week. Anger over the system for electing a new leader is growing at local level. The majority of constituency association members are understood to favour an urgent overhaul of the rules, which dictate that the decision is made by the party's 164 MPs in a secret ballot.

Despite the chairmen's overwhelming support for Mr Hague, 36, the youngest contender, they have no vote, and the rules cannot be changed for this election.

Mr Hague, who is using the Victoria offices of Jonathan Sayeed, a re- elected Tory MP and businessman, yesterday posed for photographs in his constituency in Richmond, Yorkshire. "He will be getting out of Westminster and consulting the constituencies," said one of his team.

Another contender, John Redwood, effectively asked fellow Euro-sceptic Bill Cash yesterday not to join the race. Mr Cash, MP for Stone, was said to be unhappy at Mr Redwood's declared willingness to have Europhile Kenneth Clarke in his Shadow Cabinet if he wins.

Some Tory MPs are deeply unhappy with the candidates. One said he would have liked Iain Duncan Smith to run, but he is expected to act as Mr Redwood's campaign manager.