Fox loses, but wins platform to press his brand of Conservatism

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Indy Politics

Above the press notice was a cautionary note: "subject to change/cancellation". Four-and-a-half hours later, when Sir Michael Spicer's voice boomed out over loudspeakers placed in Westminster's committee corridor, he knew his fate. His dream was over, but allies insisted his influence in the party was undiminished, and even enhanced.

Dr Fox and his team started the day in worried mood when they met in his Westminster office at 8.30am to finalise tactics for cajoling the final undecided MPs. Wednesday, the day after Kenneth Clarke had been eliminated in the first ballot of MPs, had not been good for the former GP.

They had picked up the backing of two MPs, but the anticipated collapse in David Davis's support failed to materialise. Yesterday, the Fox bandwagon picked up nine new backers. It was too little to secure the vital second place. But his tally of 51 MPs was enough for him to lay down a challenge to the final two contenders to pick up the causes he has championed. "I will be listening with very great interest in the coming weeks to see what the candidates have to say," he said.

Whoever wins the leadership ballot in the country will have to offer Dr Fox a senior Shadow Cabinet post as they try to unite the parliamentary party. Dr Fox has been unapologetic in highlighting unfashionable causes such as mental health and domestic violence. Allies of the shadow Foreign Secretary insisted last night that he had won himself a strong platform to press his brand of compassionate conservatism.

One friend said: "It's disappointing. If we had won a few more MPs the result would have been very different. But Liam has done himself no harm. He can now talk about the things he has been arguing for." Dr Fox's backers will also hope to further the strongly Eurosceptic, pro-American stance that he put forward.

Things began to look up yesterday as the shadow Foreign Secretary toured the tea rooms and lobbies of the Palace of Westminster. His lieutenants began to see signs of weakness in Mr Davis's support.

"It's bloody close," one ally said as the campaign among MPs entered its final hour.

Sadly for Dr Fox, it was not close enough.