Tory candidate takes the Michael

This article appeared in the Guardian on Friday June 24 2005 . It was last updated at 02:27 on June 24 2005.
Alan Duncan, the Conservative leadership candidate who graced last year's Men in Wellies nude calendar, yesterday urged his party to follow his own example and "rip the piss out of ourselves".

The 48-year-old MP for Rutland and Melton, who says his attempt to succeed Michael Howard aims to "bang some heads together" and rescue the Tories, risked an interview with the Spectator magazine to generate momentum for his campaign.

The shadow transport secretary declared his hero to be Alexander the Great, but admitted that the charity calendar - in which he appeared wearing only a Santa Claus hat and a photo of Margaret Thatcher covering his genitals - had been his Achilles heel.

But, like many witty politicians who are too frank for their own good, he insisted that his fight to ensure the Tories win the battle of ideas is deadly serious even as he admitted a weakness for "going where others fear to tread which makes life a bit racy."

When he launched his campaign he likened his embattled party to a lingerie department in need of some frilly knickers. In yesterday's interview he asked Petronella Wyatt, one of the magazine's resident femmes fatales, if she wears them.

Mr Duncan is famous chiefly for being the first gay Tory MP to out himself, which made the question acceptable. The answer was no - "They spoil the line of your clothes."

Mr Duncan went on to explain: "I am comfortable in my own frame. If I say something risque people think I am more human. We should rip the piss out of ourselves." He proceeded to do so by mimicking Rory Bremner mimicking Mr Howard's unusual Welsh accent.

"Pipple know we are inclusive because we have Alan Duncan and he is gay!" said the MP, a well-read oil trader, who holds his seat with a 12,930 majority, and fought off post-calendar efforts to unseat him as local candidate before the general election.

The calendar proved "a bit more risque than I thought it was going to be. I thought I would be more covered up. But my constituents loved it," he claimed before conceding: "I'm slightly upset because I feel it was slightly undignified. I wish I hadn't done it."

Mr Duncan has been an MP for 13 years and has always left a trail of debris in his wake. The hardback edition of his 1995 libertarian book, Saturn's Children, advocated the legalisation of hard drugs, a proposal dropped in the paperback version.

He was also credited with persuading William Hague to drop his support for Mr Howard in 1997 and run for leader himself - a decision which was so successful that Mr Hague's leadership career was over by the time he was 40.

But he remains upbeat. "Ten years ago, the party thought I was a cocky little shit.

"Now they are looking at me and thinking, 'ummm'. And I am looking at them and thinking, 'ummm'. It's a wonderful moment," he told Ms Wyatt.


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