Heseltine likely to come out for Clarke

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The Independent Online
Kenneth Clarke's campaign managers are very wary of letting the names of their supporters out of the bag, but more names are being promised for next week in a tantalising attempt to keep the momentum going.

It is expected that Michael Heseltine, the former Deputy Prime Minister, will be one of those backing the Clarke campaign as the bandwagon rolls for the first ballot on 10 June.

For the moment, however, there is an impression of deep torpor coming out of the Clarke camp, with very little of the frenetic activity that is marking the campaigns of other contenders for the leadership of the Conservative Party.

Whether that is because the former Chancellor's campaign managers David Curry and Michael Jack - both former ministers - have made a calculated assessment of the conservatism of the Commons electorate, or because they are supremely confident, is a matter of debate.

While Peter Lilley is undertaking a "tour of the regions" - starting in Leeds tomorrow, before going on to Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Edinburgh, and then back to London for Sunday - Mr Clarke is to make his first speech of the campaign at the London Inns of Court tonight. Not much is promised after that.

Some of Mr Clarke's supporters present themselves as above the fray, with others "scrapping among themselves for the same votes", other Clarke men are frustrated by an attitude that is so laid back, it is in danger of falling over.

But one member of the Clarke campaign team did say that apart from the five declared supporters, including former ministers John Gummer, Michael Mates, and Ian Taylor, there were more than 40 committed votes already in.

Stephen Dorrell, on the other hand, is said to have just five supporters - and one of them is currently being seduced away - and six votes, including his own.

He is off to Bristol tonight, Stratford-upon-Avon tomorrow, North Wales and Manchester on Saturday.

John Redwood, who has been campaigning ever since he left the Cabinet to challenge John Major for the party leadership, has by far the most professional campaign, with the canny Iain Duncan-Smith, the Commons successor to Norman Tebbit in Chingford, as his manager.

The candidate was in Scotland yesterday, he plans to hold press conferences in London today and tomorrow, and is then off to Southampton on Friday.

William Hague, the youngest candidate in the race, has a spread of backers including Tim Yeo, a dripping wet Tory moderate, and Alan Duncan, from the rampant right.

Mr Hague returns from a short holiday today, he plans a Manchester speech on Friday, and is due to appear on BBC television's On the Record programme on Sunday.

As a former Home Secretary, Michael Howard, like Mr Clarke, has a significant number of ex-ministers on his campaign team which is led by Sir Michael Spicer, a leading backbench Thatcherite.

His campaign has been as assiduous as Mr Redwood's in its cultivation and care of the media, but a number of natural supporters have undoubtedly been deterred by Ann Widdecombe's broadside.

Mr Howard will tonight address a meeting of constituency association chairmen, and tomorrow he will speak at a Bow Group meeting.

Last week, Mr Lilley held a special news conference at the expensive Institute of Civil Engineers building in Westminster - the venue for the press launch of Martin Bell, the former BBC war correspondent turned independent MP for Tatton - to introduce a batch of "new parliamentary recruits to his team".

Certainly, the spread of his support was impressive, with a dazzling array of young, up-and-coming right-wing Thatcherites on offer, including former ministers David Willetts and Eric Forth, bright young things like John Whittingdale and Bernard Jenkin, and the newly-elected Gerald Howarth and John Bercow.

By itself, that lot would be enough to give nightmares to any self-respecting Tory moderate.

But among the new recruits to the Lilley camp was Sir Patrick Cormack, one of the most extreme moderates in the parliamentary Conservative Party; a man so wet that he positively drips moderation.

It is possible that endorsements of that calibre, and the mix it represents, taken with the backing of Gillian Shephard, the former Secretary of State for Education and Employment, as Mr Lilley's declared deputy, will swing other supporters at the end of the day.

That is what the campaigns hope for; that star names and endorsements will impress and attract others.

For those without a judgement of their own, the name game could be important. But most members of the 164-strong Commons electorate have minds of their own, and they can be expected to make them up on their own.