Members will vote even if there is only one candidate

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Indy Politics

The Tory rank-and-file will vote on Michael Howard's leadership nomination ­ even if he remains the only candidate, the party confirmed yesterday.

Kenneth Clarke was the last Conservative heavyweight to rule himself out of the running, clearing the way for an unchallenged coronation of Mr Howard.

The shadow Chancellor could be handed the leadership without a ballot. But senior figures want rank-and-file members to be given the chance to endorse his appointment.

Mr Howard has already said he is "eager and keen" to give the party's 300,000 members a say. Grassroots members are already angry at the way MPs ousted Iain Duncan Smith, the first leader they had elected.

The party's board want Mr Howard to be seen to have the support of activists. With the backing of more than 90 Tory MPs, his bid now seems almost unstoppable.

Raymond Monbiot, president of the board, said: "We have got a system at the moment and we are going to have the opportunity for the volunteers to endorse the leader because it is the loyalty of the volunteers, that web and weft of the party."

Conservative Central Office was unable to give any estimate of the cost of a postal ballot to the cash-strapped party.

Mr Monbiot told the BBC any leader had to be seen to have the backing of activists. "According to the constitution the members have the right to have their say on the endorsement of the leader even if there is only one candidate," he said. Mr Monbiot said the members would back Mr Howard but admitted many were "absolutely hopping mad" about the way Mr Duncan Smith had been deposed.

"They feel that was extremely unhelpful in the way that it all happened," he said.

Mr Clarke announced that he would not stand against Mr Howard after holding talks with him on Thursday night. The Europhile former chancellor wanted reassurances on the direction in which Mr Howard intended to steer the party. "I shall support whoever emerges as leader, but I'm not standing myself," Mr Clarke said.