Clarke's coup as Dorrell joins the team

Click to follow
Kenneth Clarke's campaign for the Tory leadership last night won momentum for the first ballot when Stephen Dorrell announced that he was standing down to support the former chancellor.

Mr Clarke pulled off the coup without offering Mr Dorrell the key job in a shadow cabinet as the deputy leader of the Conservative Party, leaving himself the option of offering the deputy role to his main rival from the centre, William Hague, in the final stages of the contest.

At their press conference in Westminster yesterday, Mr Clarke and Mr Dorrell appeared on a platform together under the hurriedly arranged logo, "Uniting to win". But the right wing rejected their "unity" ticket, and warned that Mr Clarke would split the party over Europe.

"It is impossible for Clarke to win except in the nightmare scenario that in the third ballot, it is Hague versus Clarke. The strength of feeling against Hague is so great that some might be persuaded even Clarke is better than Hague. The idea of Hague running the shadow cabinet is risible," a member of one of the opposing camps said.

Iain Duncan-Smith, a supporter of John Redwood, said that after trimming to the right on Europe, Mr Dorrell was "coming home" to the pro-European wing of the Tory party.

Mr Dorrell will be unable to bring a "dowry" with him. His supporters, including David Faber, Peter Luff, Simon Burns, and Shaun Woodward, are expected to be split among the other camps.

All the leadership candidates paraded before the National Union of party workers at Conservative Central Office. The National Union will meet again on 9 June and decide on its own choice of leader, on the eve of the first ballot, which is restricted to MPs.

Mr Dorrell dropped out because it became clear he would trail a poor sixth in the first ballot. He said that Mr Clarke was the "biggest hitter" who could win. Mr Clarke's shift of policy on the single currency this week, calling for the January 1999 deadline to be delayed, made the move easier for Mr Dorrell.

But Mr Clarke last night rejected an appeal to the Euro-sceptic right. Delivering the Butler lecture, Mr Clarke said the Tories would never win an election by consolidating the core support and pursuing the 900,000 who backed the Referendum and UK Independence Parties. "We need to aim at the sections of the electorate who ought to be Conservative but are most difficult to attract at the moment - particularly young, uncommitted voters under the age of 45," he said.

The Tory leadership also said it was scrapping the existing candidates' list of more than 600 names. The new leader will order a fresh list to be drawn up.

New blow to Howard, page 12