Right-wing deal to stop Clarke

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The three right-wingers vying for the leadership of the Conservative party are to hold top-level talks this week on which one of them could halt the Kenneth Clarke bandwagon.

The summit, already being dubbed a "super-Granita" after the famous restaurant dinner at which Gordon Brown agreed not to stand against Tony Blair for the Labour leadership, will involve the former Social Security Secretary Peter Lilley, former Home Secretary Michael Howard and Eurosceptic John Redwood. The aim of the talks is to agree a single right-wing challenge to Mr Clarke, the ex-Chancellor, and William Hague, the ex-Welsh Secretary regarded by some on the right as "another Major".

Mr Lilley is emerging as a serious contender. He said yesterday: "Our firm figures show that I will at least be third in the first round on Tuesday ... I would then expect to go into the next round as the unity candidate. In those circumstances I would expect Michael Howard and John Redwood to stand down."

A Lilley campaign source said that after Tuesday "there has to be a conversation. It will happen."

However, Mr Howard insisted yesterday that he would be the best standard-bearer of the right to take on Mr Clarke. "There is an increasing recognition within the party that there are two heavyweight candidates who have proved themselves in Commons debate and in the ability to give strong leadership."

"I am encouraged by the support I am getting. I expect to go on into the final ballot and beat Ken Clarke in that final round."

John Redwood's camp announced a significant new endorsement: John Townend, chairman of the 92 Group of right-wing Tory MPs, who praised the ex-minister for having "the guts" to challenge John Major two years ago.