Right-wing 'betrayal' threatens new feud

Tory leadership: Redwood joy cut short as allies' endorsement of Hague raises spectre of further internecine warfare
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The continuing bitterness of the Tory right does not bode well for the future of the Conservative Party.

Last night's withdrawal of Peter Lilley and Michael Howard - in favour of William Hague - will give the young contender a guaranteed victory roll.

But the joint Lilley-Howard endorsement of Mr Hague was also being portrayed last night as a "betrayal" of the right-wing stance that Mr Lilley and Mr Howard had both taken during the run-up to yesterday's first-round ballot.

By jettisoning Mr Redwood, their right-wing colleague, Mr Lilley and Mr Howard have also guaranteed a legacy of recrimination for the new leader. Never ones to forgive and forget, the Redwood right will not be happy, and will continue their sniping. Some MPs even fear that a few right-wingers might yet back Mr Clarke in order to feed the feuding.

Even as polling was about the begin yesterday, John Redwood went on BBC Radio 4's Today programme to expose Mr Howard for exaggerating his support.

By lunchtime, Mr Lilley was appearing on The World at One to take a further kick at Mr Howard. Pointing out that the former home secretary had only garnered 10 votes of the 653 available from an advisory poll of constituency parties, Mr Lilley said he had himself made a much bigger impact than the "self-proclaimed big hitter".

In fact, of the 567 British constituency parties that did cast a vote, a clear majority went for Mr Clarke, while a third backed Mr Hague, and a measly tenth went for the three right-wingers combined.

The one certainty of the current election is that it will be the last contest in which the franchise is restricted to MPs. But the more immediate issue for the 164 Conservative MPs is how they now switch their votes for next Tuesday's contest. It would appear that there are just two choices ahead.

Redwood versus Hague would ensure a win for Mr Hague because of the threat of further strife, and possible defections, that Mr Redwood might provoke. Clarke versus Hague would ensure a win for Mr Hague because too many MPs would fear the fall-out of splits and rifts that might follow a Clarke victory.

The alternative is that Mr Hague manages to secure the necessary 83 votes needed for a clear-cut second-round win next Tuesday - the possibility of which was enhanced by last night's endorsements from Mr Lilley and Mr Howard.

Yesterday, Mr Hague had 41 hard-core votes of his own. The 27 Redwood votes will remain secure for the right, but the Lilley-Howard combined total of 47 could be more volatile. They would be enough to give Hague 88 if they switched en bloc, which they will not.

But in the privacy of a secret ballot, no one can be sure that some of Mr Clarke's first-round votes will not slip away to the man now perceived as the ultimate victor.