Clarke hints at leadership bid

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Kenneth Clarke, the former Chancellor who never quite let go of his ambition to be the next Conservative Prime Minister, has hinted that he migh launch yet another attempt to persuade his party to accept him as its leader.

Kenneth Clarke, the former Chancellor who never quite let go of his ambition to be the next Conservative Prime Minister, has hinted that he migh launch yet another attempt to persuade his party to accept him as its leader.

Mr Clarke was the runner up in two successive contests and said after his 2001 defeat that coming second in leadership elections was one bad habit he intended to break.

This suggests that he will wait to see how the rules for electing a leader are revised. Mr Clarke's strength is the respect he commands among fellow MPs.

The party rank and file regard him as too pro-Europe, and some have still not forgiven the part he played in bringing down Margaret Thatcher 15 years ago.

It was being suggested jokily yesterday that Mr Clarke could use as his theme tune an adapted version of an old Beatles song - "Do you still need me, now I'm 64?"

Born in 1941, Mr Clarke would undoubtedly be the oldest contender in the field, a handicap he brushed aside yesterday by saying "You're as old as you feel."

John Redwood, another twice-defeated leadership contender, has also hinted that he is thinking of trying to make it third time lucky by putting forward an audacious proposal for tax cuts.

"If you just simply carry our policy forward to the next election it will be £12bn of tax cuts because Labour will have put in the £8bn and we will be able to find ways of reducing that by finding unnecessary expenditure," he said in an interview for ITV1's Jonathan Dimbleby programme to be broadcast today.

Mr Redwood, who comes from the opposite wing of the party to Mr Clarke, also insisted that the Conservative Party membership should retain a major say in the choice of a new leader.

Alan Duncan, the only openly gay shadow minister, also pointedly refused to rule himself out as a candidate.

Asked on Channel 4's Morgan and Platell programme whether Britain was ready for a gay Prime Minister, he said: "Gay, black, Asian, yes why not?"

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, is the bookies' favourite to win the contest, though it is thought that the outgoing leader, Michael Howard, would prefer to be succeeded by one of the younger generation, from the so-called Notting Hill set - either the shadow Education Secretary, David Cameron, who is 38, or the 33-year-old shadow Chancellor, George Osborne.

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