Portillo launches campaign as Ancram steps intoTory leadership race

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Indy Politics

The pace of the Tory leadership contest quickened today with the launch of Michael Portillo's campaign and the expected entry into the race by party chairman Michael Ancram.

Another challenger, Iain Duncan Smith, shadow defence spokesman, moved into his campaign headquarters in the same house at Westminster where Mr Portillo planned his abortive leadership bid against John Major in 1995.

Mr Portillo, who launched his campaign in a restaurant in London's West End, said the party was "in grave peril, in grave danger of what may happen next."

He promised a far–reaching policy debate and said the Tories needed to become "passionate" again about public services.

Mr Duncan Smith will challengethe party to find new solutions on issues including health, pensions and savings and said there was a "very big and growing support for my candidature".

The house he is using as a campaign headquarters in Lord North Street has been loaned to him by businessman Greville Howard.

Mr Ancram is joining the race laterr today as a unifying, caretaker candidate, his supporters claimed. His decision will be seen as a direct attempt to scupper the shadow Chancellor.

Mr Portillo pledged to oversee its broadest policy debate since Margaret Thatcher became leader in 1975. The overhaul will involve the Shadow Cabinet, all 166 Tory MPs and experts outside politics, some of whom will not be members of the party.

Mr Portillo said: "A party that stimulates debate and welcomes new ideas is a party with a future, that can attract younger people who have the idealism to believe that tomorrow can be better." The average age of the Tory party membership is 67 and the Portillo camp is keen to ensure there is an injection of new blood.

Meanwhile, the chance of Kenneth Clarke joining the contest was said to be "improving" last night after his office was inundated with letters and phone calls from party members calling on him to stand.

If Mr Clarke does not stand, Mr Ancram's supporters claim he would be the perfect "Stop Portillo" candidate who could command support from both the right and from One Nation Tories similar to himself.

The son of the 12th Marquess of Lothian, the Earl of Ancram has chaired the Conservative Party since 1998, working closely with William Hague on the modernisation of the party's structures.

The Devizes MP is popular with MPs and voluntary party activists in the country, and his colleagues believe he would bring calm at a time of soul-searching in response to Labour's second landslide.

But Mr Ancram's critics point out that he is insufficiently well known among the wider public and as a Scottish aristocrat has the wrong image for a forward-looking party.

Mr Clarke is due to return from his trip to Vietnam, where he is representing British American Tobacco, this weekend. One ally said: "The chances of Ken standing are improving. He's waiting to see which other candidates come forward. He has received overwhelming support from outside the Commons."

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