Conservative 'young Turk' Osborne rules himself out of leadership contest

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George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, last night ruled himself out of the contest to succeed Michael Howard as party leader.

George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, last night ruled himself out of the contest to succeed Michael Howard as party leader.

Mr Osborne, 33, said he wanted to concentrate on opposing the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and developing the Tories' economic policy. His decision leaves the way open for David Cameron to stand as the standard-bearer for the party's young Turks group of MPs.

His promotion last week to the second most powerful position on the Tory frontbench triggered speculation that Mr Howard was anointing him as his preferred successor.

But in an interview with the Daily Telegraph he said: "I am making it clear I will not be a candidate. I have a big enough job being shadow Chancellor, opposing Gordon Brown and developing an economic policy that broadens the appeal of the Conservative party.''

The paper says he has told friends that he has not abandoned plans to lead the party at some point in the future, but accepts he needs to prove himself as a senior frontbencher first.

His remarks will turn the spotlight on his fellow member of the so-called Notting Hill set, David Cameron, the shadow education secretary, who is 38.

The frontrunner for the leadership remains David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, who is on the party's centre right, but last night some MPs believed that Kenneth Clarke, the former Chancellor and Mr Cameron could mount a joint "youth and experience'' bid for the leadership, with Mr Cameron acting as Mr Clarke's deputy.

Michael Howard has meanwhile been warned by some of his own MPs that the Tories are still seen as "the nasty party" and that he was wrong to fight the election campaign as a "a one-man band".

Damian Green, a leading moderniser, told a meeting of Conservative MPs chaired by Mr Howard that the election showed the party had not thrown off the "nasty" label given to it by Theresa May when she was the party chairman three years ago.

John Bercow, another moderniser, repeated his criticism that the Tory campaign relied too heavily on attacking migrants and asylum-seekers, despite being rebuked by Mr Howard at an earlier meeting for an article in The Independent saying that the party's policy was "repellent".

Steve Hilton, special adviser to the former Tory co-chairman Lord Saatchi, insisted at the meeting that immigration did not cost the party votes on 5 May.

He presented polling evidence that the Tories were seen as "selfish" and "obsessed with money" but not "nasty". But Mr Green replied that the "selfish" comments showed that the Tories were still regarded as "nasty".

The debate over the Tories' third successive defeat was fuelled yesterday when Lynton Crosby, the party's campaign director, said it should not have played down immigrationduring the closing stages of the election.

He told The Spectator magazine: "Michael gave only one speech and one press conference on it in 34 days. In the last few days we were still finding voters who said, 'Why haven't you mentioned immigration? We'd vote for you if you did.'"

Mr Crosby, who is returning to Australia after six months with the Tories which earned him £250,000, dismissed criticism over his "dog-whistle" tactics to target Tory core voters on issues such as immigration, abortion and Gypsies.

"Everyone could hear what we were saying to voters; it was more like a foghorn, persistent and resonant," he said.

He believed Iraq damaged the Tories. "People remembered why they had lost trust in Tony Blair, but they couldn't see any real difference between the Tories and Labour, so we lost out on that."

Tories' Australian aide urges them to learn from Kylie

The Tories were urged to learn lessons from Kylie Minogue as they work out how to fight back after their third successive election defeat.

Lynton Crosby, the party's campaign director, said it should show the same grit and determination as his fellow Australian, who is in hospital after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Mr Crosby said: "She's not a quitter and she never whinges. She is a good operator and she works bloody hard. She knows how to reinvent herself but still be true to herself. Even with this cancer thing she is being positive."

Asked about the poster which said: "How would you feel if a bloke on early release attacked your daughter?", he replied: "You don't run ads for people to like but to send a message. You have pictures of furry animals if you want to be liked."

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