Clarke pours scorn on challenger

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The Independent Online


Kenneth Clarke yesterday left the door open to entering the leadership contest, while emerging as John Major's most outspoken supporter in a rubbishing operation on John Redwood's campaign.

The Chancellor, who is in Cannes for the European summit, brushed aside questions on his thoughts of entering the contest in a second ballot to attack the "simplistic" right-wing policies advocated by Mr Redwood, which he warned would lead to further pressure on the pound.

The Chancellor said the "slight flurry of alarm" which marked the pound down on the currency markets would be short-lived. He declared that the Prime Minister would restore confidence to the markets by reasserting his authority.

"We are not turning to the simplicities of Mr Redwood and his right-wing followers who, I think, would cause the markets rather considerable alarm."

Mr Clarke compared Mr Redwood's populist right-wing appeal to Newt Gingrich, the right-winger who has led a Republican revival in the United States.

Mr Clarke said: "He [Redwood] is standing on a platform which is all very well for some right-wing Republicans in America who are not in government but are just commanding Congress, but it is not suitable for a Conservative government that is halfway through its period of office and is delivering the healthiest economic recovery that this country has seen for 30 years."

While Mr Clarke ducked the question of whether he would run, his aides insisted he has no plans to enter the contest if Mr Major fails to win outright on Tuesday.

His fulsome backing for Mr Major will make it difficult for him to run against the Prime Minister. His comments were in sharp contrast to the relative silence from other Cabinet ministers outside the campaign team, including Michael Heseltine.

The Chancellor's hopes of winning the leadership have declined as a result of his Budget increases in taxes and insistence that Britain should keep open its option to enter the European single currency.

While the Chancellor engaged in a round of interviews to defend Mr Major, the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, left their beach front hotel in a bathrobe to go swimming in the sea across the road.

The ministerial team has kept up a calm front, but the anxiety in the Major camp led to early morning telephone calls to Mr Clarke which forced the Chancellor to miss an interview for GMTV. He was replaced by Mr Motivator, the television aerobics expert.

The Chancellor underlined the Major campaign strategy to present Mr Redwood as a right- wing extremist with a simplistic ideology.

Mr Clarke said: "We are losing steady Conservative voters who are protesting against the Government and are voting for Tony Blair and the Labour Party.

"They are not voting for Tony Blair because they see a Newt Gingrich type figure in Tony Blair. They are actually voting for things that we stand for and which we can deliver and the Labour Party never can."