Tories grudgingly endorse Hague

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The Conservative leader, William Hague, meeting in conclave with the shadow cabinet at a "secret hideaway" in Salisbury was last night told he had won the leadership ballot but the result was being challenged inside and outside his party.

He was told the result of the one-candidate ballot but the final figures will not be announced until next Tuesday, on the first day of the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool. Shadow cabinet sources said he was "very happy" with the result and the turn-out was around 150,000 - about half the estimated membership of the party.

But it means Mr Hague has been endorsed by less than half his party. He recently said Labour had no mandate for devolution in Wales because the referendum turn-out was only 25 per cent. Tory activists last night said they would attack the result by counting every abstention as a "no" vote. They also criticised the leadership for the way the ballot was conducted. The Independent learnt the arrangements were so loose that a former Labour press officer who is still a member of the Labour Party voted "no" in the Tory leadership ballot. He said: "The ballot papers were issued in bundles. Someone gave me one and I filled it in. I voted no. It shows what a sham the whole thing is."

A Tory spokesman confirmed that ballot forms were issued in bundles of 50 to association officials across the country. "...It shows there are problems with the Conservative Party organisation, and it proves the case for reform with a national membership list."