Candidates battle for support of millionaires

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Each camp has been discreetly wooing potential donors who will be able to bankroll their candidate up to the allowed spending limit of £100,000.

Liam Fox scored a coup yesterday when he secured the backing of Stuart Wheeler, the multimillionaire spread-betting tycoon.

Mr Wheeler, who gave the party £5m during William Hague's leadership, has invited all the potential candidates to dinner in recent months.

He has decided to back Mr Fox because of the shadow Foreign Secretary's staunchly Eurosceptic views. Mr Wheeler said: "He has the quality also that he says what he means and I think that's crucial. He cares a lot about the family and I think that's crucial for all kinds of reasons."

David Cameron, the shadow Education Secretary, has won the support of a series of high-profile backers attracted by his modernising message.

Best-known is the retail magnate Lord Harris of Peckham, previously a regular donor to the party, who is said to be worth more than £160m.

Mr Cameron has also picked up the backing of Roddie Fleming, the director of the Fleming Family & Partners banking group, Sir Tom Cowie, the founder of the transport giant Arriva, and Lord Cradlington, the chief executive of the Huntsworth communications group.

David Davis has several declared millionaire financial backers and more are expected to support the leadership frontrunner.

Robin Birley, a nightclub owner, is to loan the shadow Home Secretary a private helicopter for campaigning. He has said of Mr Davis: "He is the most conservative of the candidates. He has got courage and charisma."

Also on board are Henry Angest, a banker with an estimated £40m fortune, Sir Anthony Bamford, the head of the JCB construction equipment firm, and best-selling novelist Frederick Forsyth.

Lord Kalms, the founder of the Dixons retail chain and a vehement opponent of the single European currency, is also a big fan of Mr Davis - and has threatened to quit the party if Kenneth Clarke wins the leadership.

The former chancellor, however, has attracted the support of Sir Christopher Gent, the Europhile chief executive of Vodafone. Lord Steinberg, the non-executive chairman of Stanley Leisure, who has praised Mr Clarke as the "man with the most experience", and Sir Michael Bishop, the chairman of BMI British Midland, are also backing him.

A spokesman for the Clarke campaign said: "We've had a few substantial donations, but also lots of offers from party members ranging from £10 and upwards."

Sir Malcolm Rifkind is yet to make public any donors. However, he has received the "strong support" of Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay, the Scottish Tory donor, who sold his conferences business, the Institute of International Research, for $1.4bn this year. A spokesman for Sir Malcolm said he anticipated "no problem" raising the cash for his leadership campaign.

Meanwhile, the former Tory party treasurer, Lord Ashcroft, is keeping everyone guessing over who will capture his support. But he hinted at his preference, saying he "would not be unhappy" with a run-off between David Davis and David Cameron for the leadership.

The contenders

DAVID CAMERON

Age 38

Unique selling point: Young and pretty enough to connect with all those middle-class voters, particularly the mums, who need to be won back to One Nation Tory principles.

Pitch to the party: I may be inexperienced, but I know what needs changing; I'm Eurosceptic.

Style: Smooth, articulate, confident, surrounded by young, attractive Tories ­ even Boris supports him ­ and definitely from the Notting Hill set.

Elephant trap: So young he would be a pushover for brutal Gordon Brown as PM. Also, how can an Old Etonian claim to know about comprehensive schooling?

KENNETH CLARKE

Age: 65

Unique selling point: Experience. He's been Chancellor of theExchequer, Home Secretary, Education Secretary and Health Secretary.

Pitch to the party: I'm the biggest beast in the jungle. You may not like my views on the single currency, but it's time you picked a winner. Also I'm the one who got it right on the big issue, Iraq.

Style: Jazz-loving, cigar-smoking bloke down the pub. The man the Labour Party fears the most.

Elephant trap: Stubborn nature and the euro. For God's sake Ken, keep off the subject.

DAVID DAVIS

Age: 56

Unique Selling Point: Working-class lad made good, brought up by a single mum on a tough council estate. Experience as Eurosceptic minister for Europe.

Pitch to the party: I'm hard as nails, a former TA SAS man you can trust to take no Labour hostages, but I'm also cuddly enough to be a One Nation leader who won't call for hanging and flogging when the going gets tough.

Style: Tough, broken-nosed assassin. Engaging, likes a joke, and is good company, if you can keep up on his cross-country yomps.

Elephant trap: Fear he might frighten the voters the Tories need to win back.

LIAM FOX

Age 43

Unique selling point: Unashamedly right-wing Eurosceptic, close toGeorge Bush administration and has adopted the agenda of the religiousneocons, including call for cutting limiton legal abortion to 12 weeks.

Pitch to the party: I'm a doctor, you can trust me. Wants to, "break down thebarriers between state provision andprivate provision".

Style: Snappy-dresser, sharp-witted, his best mate William Hague said he was the funniest man in the Tory party.

Elephant trap: Those jokes might get him into trouble. And lacks the stature to make it big alongside the big beasts.

SIR MALCOM RIFKIND

Age 59

Unique selling point: One Nation Eurosceptic, you get the best of Ken without the downside of his Europhilia.

Pitch to the party: I'm the best speaker of all the candidates ­ I'd be a match for Blair or Brown on the big issues. And I opposed the Iraq war.

Style: Harry Potter specs and grey suits belie the sparkling wit. The best debater by far alongside other candidates at the Independent fringe at last year's party conference.

Elephant trap: Lack of support among the MPs. William Hague said his only chance now is to shoot the other candidates. He'd probably miss.

Conference agenda

* MAIN BUSINESS:

2pm Conference opens

2.30pm Conservative chairman, Francis Maude

2.55pm Family, culture, media and sport spokeswoman, Theresa May

3.20pm Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind

3.45pm Shadow Transport Secretary, Alan Duncan

4.15pm Former Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith

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