Tory 'colt' bursts into leadership race

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 May, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 May, 1997, 12:00am

The final line-up in the Tory leadership race is under starter's orders, with no late runners expected.

John Major's decision to stand down within hours of his electoral drubbing has seen six would-be leaders emerge. And they largely represent a step to the right.

The new favourite is William Hague, the former Welsh Secretary who at 36 is also the youngest contender.

He came from nowhere to be the bookmakers' favourite after first putting his name forward as the mere stablemate of strongly tipped former home secretary Michael Howard.

Champagne flowed as their partnership - with Mr Hague standing as deputy - was celebrated as recently as Monday night.

But the move spurred a flurry of phone calls from backbench MPs convincing Mr Hague that he had a real chance of winning.

The others jockeying for position are former chancellor Kenneth Clarke, former social services secretary Peter Lilley, former health secretary Stephen Dorrell and another former minister, John Redwood, who stood against Mr Major in 1995.

Mr Hague denied yesterday he was too young to take on the task of rebuilding the divided party.

Many feel his youth is an asset in the face of what is seen as a possible 10 years in opposition.

Mr Hague said the Tories needed to make a fresh start and he was capable of delivering it.

As for Europe, he said Britain should not be part of a single European currency, adding: 'We have to couch our views about Europe in positive terms.

'We want to be in Europe but not run by Europe.' Mr Dorrell, claiming he was the best candidate to rebuild the party, pledged he would make life better for all sections of the community.

Mr Howard said the party must listen to the electorate and 'make the changes required to modernise the party's campaigning, presentation and publicity'.

Anti-Europe Mr Redwood, perhaps surprisingly, made clear he would be willing to have pro-European Mr Clarke in his team.

He claimed two years in exile on the backbenches, following his unsuccessful bid to oust Mr Major, gave him an advantage because he would not have to defend old policies.

'The others will have to explain how they stayed there defending those policies to the bitter end,' he said, insisting he wanted to keep the party a 'broad church'.

Heavy going is predicted for the race and the final post will not be in view until next month when MPs deliver their verdict.

Then it is four months until the winner makes his debut at the party conference.

Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten, along with other former MPs Michael Portillo and Malcolm Rifkind, cannot enter the race.