Tory rebels back Ken Clarke in first challenge to Hague

WILLIAM HAGUE faces the first direct challenge to his authority as Conservative Party leader with the publication of a European election leaflet urging Tory supporters to choose between him and Kenneth Clarke.

More than 5 million voters will receive the leaflet, which carries pictures of the two Tory heavyweights and statements on Europe from each. It asks bluntly: "Are you more a Clarke Conservative than a Hague Conservative?"

The politically explosive move, by the breakaway Pro-Euro Conservative Party, comes as Mr Hague's position as leader appears increasingly shaky.

Sharp divisions among the shadow cabinet emerged last week following the announcement of plans - on the night of a dinner to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Baroness Thatcher's election as prime minister - to abandon the Tories' free-market approach to the welfare state. She has reportedly "gone ballistic".

Yesterday, John Major came under pressure to abandon his safe Huntingdon seat to Chris Patten, the former governor of Hong Kong, who has been tipped as another candidate to lead the Tories.

The anti-Hague leaflet, which places Mr Clarke at the forefront of a potential leadership bid, is designed to encourage a protest vote against the Tory leader in June's elections to the European Parliament. The authors, two Euro MPs who resigned the Tory whip last year in protest at his decision to rule out British entry into the single currency for the time being, hope that a poor showing in the polls will bring about a leadership challenge. They believe Mr Clarke could help to revive the fortunes of the Conservative Party by staking a claim for the middle ground.

"In a whole range of respects Clarke is a much better leader than Hague," said John Stevens, one of the leaflet's authors. "Our objective is not to turn the Tory party into a pro-European force but into a force capable of winning votes from the public."

Mr Clarke is likely to distance himself from the leaflet but he has not ruled himself out as a potential leadership contender. Last week, it emerged in Donald Macintyre's biography of Peter Mandelson, that Mr Clarke, who is in favour of close co-operation within the EU, held secret meetings with Labour in the last general election to dissuade Mr Blair from taking a more sceptical line than the Tories on the single currency.

Mr Hague's new policy of using tax revenues to fund hospitals and schools also came under attack last week. Senior members of the shadow cabinet, including Ann Widdecombe, the health spokesman, indicated they would ignore it. The policy shift, set out by Peter Lilley, has also sparked divisions in the Tory 1922 Committee.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Transport & Logistics Assistant

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This highly regarded industry l...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Team Leader

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for a Compa...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for a Compa...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an innovative a...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower