Kenneth Clarke's campaign for the Tory leadership hit back hard at Iain Duncan Smith last night with a savage attack on his disloyalty to the last Conservative government.
The Clarke camp declared that Mr Duncan Smith's calls for a united party were undermined by his own repeated rebellions against John Major's administration.
Michael Heseltine, the former deputy prime minister, said the shadow Defence Secretary was "at the forefront" of Eurosceptic votes against his own government.
Mr Clarke's supporters were stung into action after the former Tory chairman Michael Ancram, a supporter of Mr Duncan Smith, claimed a Clarke leadership would "tear the party apart".
The former chancellor will resume his campaign today in London with a pledge to put the economy, rather than Europe, at the heart of Conservative attacks on the Government. Claiming to be the man who bequeathed Tony Blair low inflation and healthy public finances, Mr Clarke would make the state of the economy a key feature of his opposition to Labour. His supporters said the strategy, coupled with a strong line on public services, contrasted starkly with Mr Duncan Smith's "obsession" with the euro.
In a speech to members in Canterbury yesterday, Mr Duncan Smith set out his stall for the leadership with an emphasis on the need for Tory unity.
"To beat Tony Blair we must be united. I am sure that you, like me, are sick and tired of Conservatives fighting each other when we should be fighting our opponents. If I'm elected leader, that is what our party will be doing, not engaging in internal squabbles," he said.
However, Mr Clarke's campaign seized on Mr Duncan Smith's comments as "pure hypocrisy", revealing that he had voted 11 times against John Major's administration and abstained 47 times.
Figures show that Mr Duncan Smith was the 10th most disloyal MP in the current Tory party as he joined Eurosceptics during the rebellions over the Maastricht Treaty.
Mr Heseltine said: "If one is talking about a united party, those of us who were part of the last government remember very well the divisions were created by the Eurosceptics and Iain Duncan Smith was at the forefront of that divisive process."
Mr Clarke's spokesman added: "Duncan Smith talks about loyalty but he was one of the most disruptive and disloyal MPs when we were in government. If he becomes leader, it give be a green light to every single rebellious MP."
Earlier, Mr Ancram toured the television studios to launch a vitriolic attack on Mr Clarke's leadership bid, claiming he would lead the party into oblivion. He said: "Europe cannot be sidelined, as Ken Clarke suggests. The European Union is not going to hold back from development until the Tories have sorted themselves out."
But the Clarke camp said that Mr Ancram's judgement had been poor in backing William Hague, poor in launching his own failed campaign and poor in leading a disastrous general election campaign.
Mr Clarke's campaign received a boost last night when 100 chairmen of Conservative Associations pledged their support.
A letter from 15 senior Conservatives, backing Mr Clarke, was also sent out to rank-and-file party members.Reuse content