Lose the beer gut if you want to be Tory leader, Clarke told

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Kenneth Clarke has been told by his backers to lose his beer belly amid growing signs he will enter the race for the Conservative Party leadership.

The beer-loving, cigar-smoking Mr Clarke is regarded by friends as impervious to advice about his image, with his baggy suits, baggy eyes and Hush Puppies. "[But] we have told him for his own good that he ought to lose weight," said one friend.

His allies say his support has been reduced by the surprise entry of Michael Ancram, the ex-chairman of the Tory party, while Mr Clarke was in Vietnam promoting cigarettes for British American Tobacco. "We've told him the arithmetic doesn't look good but Ken is not minded to back off," the friend said.

Mr Clarke still believes he can beat Michael Portillo. As reported in later editions of The Independent on Sunday last week, he said he would probably come second in the vote among MPs and then win the ballot of party members. He told friends he would not announce his decision until later to "make a big bang".

But other friends are urging Mr Clarke not to stand and to back Mr Ancram, who also has the edge over Mr Portillo among Tory members. "Ken would now probably at the very best come third and that would be humiliating," said one senior Tory MP.

Mr Portillo has the momentum but, as revealed in The Independent on Sunday today, Ann Widdecombe intends to do all she can to stop him winning.