Duncan willing to run for Tory leadership

This article appeared in the Guardian on Tuesday December 21 2004 . It was last updated at 00:30 on December 21 2004.
Senior Conservative MPs confirmed last night that Alan Duncan, the only openly gay member of the Tory frontbench, is willing to run for the party leadership if Michael Howard steps down after his likely election defeat.

Though David Davis, the shadow home secretary, is the frontrunner to win at his third attempt, "he won't be crowned uncontested", friends of Mr Duncan, MP for Rutland and Melton, said last night after reports of his plans surfaced in the press.

There is no suggestion Mr Duncan is organising support, let alone plotting against Mr Howard whom he backed for the leadership last time, though he avoided voting for ID cards last night.

With the whips turning a blind eye he attended a con stituency carol service instead, a symbolic gesture from an MP who wants his party to represent tolerance and inclusiveness, not old tribal instincts.

Other contenders, ranging from John Redwood on the right to Tim Yeo on the left, would probably enter the field. Mr Duncan, an oil trader, now spokesman on international aid, represents the socially libertarian, economically Thatcherite strand of Toryism.

Mr Howard is expected not to quit immediately unless he does very badly in the election. Old hands feel John Major and William Hague harmed their party by doing so in 1997 and 2001.

The public's favourite, Kenneth Clarke, lost to less experienced rivals both times.

Mr Hague now regrets his premature leadership and Mr Duncan regards younger rivals such as David Cameron, at 38, as not ready.


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