Clarke and Redwood turn on Hague

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The deep and cold anger of the Tory leadership contest broke surface yesterday with Kenneth Clarke and John Redwood making direct attacks on William Hague.

Mr Clarke told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the party should "come to its senses" and decide how best to confront a Labour government with an overwhelming majority.

"William one day could play a leading role," the former chancellor said. "I anticipate he's ready for a very big role in Opposition." But he then added: "People have to judge: can he develop the style, the personality, the views which make him the natural, next Conservative prime minister in this country." Mr Clarke's evident view was that Mr Hague had neither the style, personality, nor views, to qualify him for that high office.

But that attack was later trumped by Mr Redwood, after his campaign manager, Iain Duncan Smith, had told a Commons press conference that his man was standing on a clear-cut platform of "honesty, decency and integrity."

When Mr Redwood was asked how that description distinguished him from Mr Clarke and Mr Hague, he said pointedly: "I have never said that they lack decency." His supporters laughed at the imputation.

He then explained his attack on their honesty and integrity, adding: "I am saying that the party as a whole, in 1992, made a whole series of statements and promises which turned out to be untrue.

"I am a charitable man. I will assume that they were all made in good faith. Events, shall we say, confounded those statements. I would like us to be a lot more contrite about what events did."

Specifically, Mr Redwood said: "In order to win again, we must first re-establish our reputation for telling the truth.

"In 1992, we said we were the party of low taxation; we turned out to mean we were the party for putting up taxes. We said we would not increase VAT, and then we said that we were going to put VAT on fuel. We said we would stand by mortgage-interest tax relief, but it turned out that we meant we were going to halve it. We said we were the party that wanted a Europe of Nations, then it turned out we were the party that wanted to sign a federal treaty.

"We said we were the party that would stand by the NHS, and then we said we were the party that wanted to close Bart's and many other hospitals. We said the recession was over in the spring, and many people went on to lose their jobs, their homes, their businesses, their hopes. We have to say sorry. We have to say that in future we will say less than we intend to deliver. We have to say what we mean and mean what we say."

That deliberate acceptance of the successful attack made by Tony Blair against the Conservative leadership in last month's election was intended to distinguish Mr Redwood from the other two contenders for the leadership. The slur could not have been clearer.

Speaking later on the Jimmy Young radio programme, Mr Clarke warned that the party would ignore grassroots anger over MPs' behaviour at its peril. "This thing must not be settled by a whole lot of deals on jobs," he said.

"The voluntary party is fed up, sick to the teeth, with the behaviour of the parliamentary party before the election ... The parliamentary party should have a look at what the public thinks of us."