Pressure on Iain Duncan Smith grew last night after another multimillionaire Tory donor called for a "clear-the-air" vote of confidence in his leadership.
John Madejski, one of the 100 richest men in the country and the Conservatives' third-highest donor last year, said a vote by MPs was vital to resolve the speculation destabilising the party. Mr Madejski's comments, on BBC2's Newsnight, were made as Mr Duncan Smith vowed to fight on and lead his party into the next general election. Rebel MPs were confident they would gather 25 names to trigger a leadership contest next week but their leader said there was "no prospect" of that happening.
Meanwhile, turmoil surrounding the Conservative Party deepened when it emerged that Kenneth Clarke was refusing to rule out a surprise bid for leadership.
The former chancellor, who has tried and failed to gain leadership on two previous occasions, has reportedly told friends his appetite for the position remains undiminished, according to today's Times. His supporters played down the report last night.
Mr Clarke's support for the single European currency and his hostility to the war in Iraq would put him out of step with most colleagues. But he remains an undisputed political heavyweight and Tory MPs might feel he could reach out to voters increasingly disenchanted with the Government.
His apparent intervention took place only hours after senior Tories stepped up their attacks yesterday, with Chris Patten criticising Mr Duncan Smith's disloyalty to John Major and Lord Howe of Aberavon and calling for a more broad-based leadership.
Mr Patten, a former Tory chairman, was scathing about Mr Duncan Smith's repeated votes against Mr Major's government over European issues. "Of course, it is easier to preach loyalty if you practised loyalty," he said.
Mr Madejski said: "To get the situation resolved one way or another there should be an election just to confirm either Iain Duncan Smith is going to carry on as leader of the Tory party or someone new will be coming along to take over."
More constituency chairmen also weighed in with calls for a vote of confidence. David Whincup, deputy chairman of David Davis's Haltemprice and Howden constituency association and an activist who backed Mr Duncan Smith in the 2001 leadership contest, said: "It is getting silly now and the best thing would be a vote by MPs."Reuse content