Leadership voting move for Tories set to fail

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The Tories' plans to change the voting system for the election of a new leader are almost certain to be thrown out by MPs over fears it would split the party.

The Tories' plans to change the voting system for the election of a new leader are almost certain to be thrown out by MPs over fears it would split the party.

The Conservative Party board proposed that the voluntary party in the country should have the chance to nominate a champion to go into the vote with other candidates chosen by MPs.

However, senior party sources said the idea had not won support. "Most people feel it's institutionalising conflict. It would be written up as a titanic struggle between the MPs and the members in the country. It's unlikely to be accepted.''

The 1922 Committee of Tory MPs will decide on the election system in the next fortnight. Other options include keeping the present system, which the Tory MPs said gave too much power to the right-wing members in the constituencies. David Davis and the youngest of 12 possible contenders, David Cameron, are emerging as the front-runners. Mr Davis' supporters are furious at delays in the contest, which they fear could favour a challenger.

Three senior Tory MPs called on Mr Howard to resign immediately at the weekly meeting of the 1922 Committee to allow the contest to go ahead now.

However, senior colleagues of the leader said Mr Howard would not go now. He will stand down in October, triggering an election for November. "Michael won't stand down now. And even if he did, there is no way we could elect a new leader before the summer recess of Parliament," said a senior Tory MP.

Yesterday, Mr Howard defended his strategy for a seven-month delay before the contest, saying: "I don't have regrets about that."

Mr Howard warned the party that squabbling over the leadership could cost the party the next election. "If they throw away the advantages of unity and discipline we will not be in a position where we can win the next election," he said on Radio Five Live.

Alan Duncan, who is a possible leadership candidate, will deliver a thinly veiled attack on Mr Howard today, for plunging the party into a leadership contest before it has the chance to review reasons for its failure in three successive elections.

Mr Duncan, in a speech to students in London, will say: "In an ideal world, we should be talking only of ideas and principles and philosophy; and then later on perhaps of party rules and picking a new leader.

"The risk is that all three become entangled, and the most important of them all - our long-term thinking - becomes relegated once again. The challenge we face is to make sure thinking is not overshadowed by manoeuvring."

Mr Duncan, the shadow Transport Secretary, will urge the party not to ape New Labour. He will warn against using focus groups to find policies that are popular with the voters.

However, Lord Heseltine, the former deputy prime minister, appeared to support David Cameron, saying: "I want time for the opportunity to see if there is anyone in the new generation who can do the job Tony Blair did, in leaping a generation, and putting away the divisiveness that has gone on in the party since the 1980s."

He also took a sideswipe at Tory constituencies for being too right-wing, saying in The Spectator magazine that they were "wholly unrepresentative of anything on earth".

Lord Heseltine said that Mr Howard was "not a saleable proposition. Ken Clarke, whatever you may think about his policies, he is a bloke."

He said that the Conservatives had lost the public sector. He added: "The teachers, the doctors, all these people, they are all now Liberal Democrats."

The contenders

DAVID DAVIS

The shadow Home Secretary is bookies' early favourite. On the moderate right, his council estate background could be an advantage.

KENNETH CLARKE

The former chancellor is seen as popular with the voters, but his strong pro-EU views put him at odds with most of his party.

SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND

Vastly experienced former minister who returned as an MP last month. He has urged a drive to win over the centre ground.

LIAM FOX

A right-winger who has lambasted the EU since becoming shadow Foreign Secretary. But he is thought to be short of supporters in the Commons.

ANDREW LANSLEY

Enthusiastic moderniser, who is now shadow Health Secretary. He has argued that the party needs to rebrand itself, but he could be too short on charisma to be leader

DAVID CAMERON

Old Etonian stalwart of the Tories' so-called 'Notting Hill set'. He is keen to broaden party's appeal and is thought to be Michael Howard's choice.

JOHN REDWOOD

A Thatcherite right-winger and strong Eurosceptic who has twice stood for the leadership. He was kept out of limelight during the general election.

DAVID WILLETTS

A former Downing Street adviser whose views are at the centre of the party. Affable but his style may be too cerebral for leadership.

ALAN DUNCAN

The shadow Transport Secretary is on the left of the party and is pushing for an equality agenda.

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