Tuesday, June 7

Who's turn is it to lead the Tory Party.

By Nick Assinder

Sir Malcolm Rifkind has become the first Tory MP to state he is set to run for the party leadership - almost.

Sir Malcolm is likely to run for leaderThe former foreign secretary said it was "quite likely" he would stand, but added that we would have to wait a little longer for his definitive statement.
Still, that is further than any of the other likely contenders have gone. They are still in teasing mode.

Former Chancellor Ken Clarke is said to want the job and to be "agonising" over it. He has said he will make up his mind "in due course".

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis is widely seen as the front runner, but has still to officially declare.

And David Cameron, Liam Fox, Tim Yeo, David Willetts, Damian Green and Alan Duncan are also claimed to be considering whether to go for it. And they may not be the only ones.

Would-be candidates certainly have plenty of time yet to make up their minds, change them, be talked out of it or be persuaded to stand for the good of the party.

The recent flurry of demands for Michael Howard to quit immediately has evaporated and it looks fairly certain that the contest will run to his original, shortly-before-Christmas timetable.

In the meantime, however, some of the contenders have started mapping out their platforms and, once again, there are the suggestions this must be the final battle to settle the direction the party wants to take.

Sir Malcolm has declared the Tories need to "win back the millions of people on the centre ground of politics".

The party has spent too much time concentrating on shoring up its core vote, important though that was, he suggested.

His message is a moderate, inclusive one and offers a distinct alternative from that proposed by Mr Davis.

He has talked about the need to return to traditional Tory values - seen as a rejection of the "modernisers'" agenda - although at the same time he has insisted the party needs to broaden its appeal.

Mr Clarke has said little but probably doesn't need to. His pro-European, modernising views are widely known. The death of the EU constitution has been seen as a boost to him as it removes the issues as a major campaigning issue. But, having lost twice before, he probably wants to feel pretty confident of victory if he is to stand again.

Damian Green, another pro-European left winger, has spoken of the return of One Nation Toryism, while David Cameron is seen as one of the more youthful, modernising hopefuls.
Other likely contenders are also expected to make speeches to start setting out their campaign themes in the coming weeks.

What seems likely is that this large field of hopefuls will be whittled down pretty quickly with potential deals amongst candidates from the competing wings of the party.

No obvious "dream ticket" has yet emerged but there is plenty of talk about a partnership between a moderniser and a traditionalist aimed at bringing together those wings.

What is certain is that the next few weeks will see all that manoeuvring gradually moving into overdrive.

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