Howard says Clarke is 'too old' to lead the Tory party

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A campaign to stop Ken Clarke by saying he is too old to become the leader of the Tory party has begun as the "beauty parade" of potential candidates turns into a bitter fight.

A campaign to stop Ken Clarke by saying he is too old to become the leader of the Tory party has begun as the "beauty parade" of potential candidates turns into a bitter fight.

Michael Howard, 63, was the first to say that Mr Clarke, 64, was too old to succeed him as leader. Michael Portillo also said he "may be too old" and made it clear he would prefer the party to jump a generation to one of the two younger generation of modernising candidates, either David Cameron, 38, or George Osborne, 33.

The "stop Ken" campaign was begun to prevent Mr Clarke splitting the vote among modernisers. They fear David Davis, the favourite from the right, will prove unstoppable if the left is divided. The modernisers respect Mr Clarke's wide appeal with the electorate, but doubt that he can reach out to voters who have deserted the party on the grounds that it is out of touch with modern Britain.

Mr Clarke, an ardent pro-European, could split the party again, if he had to lead the Tories into a campaign for a "no" vote on the European constitution referendum next year.

Speaking to The Independent, Francis Maude, the new chairman of the Conservative Party, and a committed moderniser, said the Conservative "brand" was damaged and had to be repaired by a fundamental change in the Tory party.

"You have to understand what the negatives are about the brand - the sense we don't understand modern Britain; that we sometimes live on a different planet; that we are thought to be backward-looking and we have not presented a positive enough vision of what Britain of tomorrow could be like."

When Mr Clarke last ran for the leadership, the party membership opted for Iain Duncan Smith, who was eventually forced out by his own MPs.

Mr Howard said on BBC Breakfast with Frost: "If you look ahead to the next election, it is going to be in four or five years' time, I will be 67 or 68, and I think that is too old to lead a party from opposition into government Ken may prove me wrong but that is what I thought."

Mr Clarke said he was taking soundings on making a third leadership bid. He denied age was a barrier, saying: "My view is you're as old as you feel."

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