Tory oil tycoon who won't be backing Bush

This article appeared in the Guardian on Saturday October 30 2004 . It was last updated at 01:58 on October 30 2004.
A former Thatcher cheerleader, who made his fortune trading oil, the Conservative frontbencher Alan Duncan should be a natural Bush supporter.

But on Tuesday night the shadow international development secretary will be praying that John Kerry wins.

"If Kerry wins it will clear the slate," he says, one of the few MPs on friendly terms with the senator, whom he met when studying at Harvard in the 1980s.

A George Bush supporter in 2000, Mr Duncan now has his Commons' office decorated with Kerry-Edwards posters, symbolic of the fact that most MPs - Labour and Tory - will be rooting for the Democrats, and hoping that the president is "re-defeated", as the new cry goes.

The Labour love-in with Mr Kerry is simple to explain. MPs loath Mr Bush as one of the most rightwing presidents in US history, whose invasion of Iraq has severely weakened their government.

Andrew Mackinlay, a Labour MP on the foreign affairs select committee, says: "A Kerry victory will give us a great opportunity for a fresh start. It may not lead to a dramatic change in Iraq but I think it will give us an opportunity to reassess where we are."

Downing St is officially neutral, though intensive preparations are being made behind the scenes. One minister said that Mr Blair, who would be sorry on a personal level if President Bush lost, was keeping a level head.

"It is win for win for Tony," the minister said. "A Kerry victory would liberate him from Bush. Tony would not be exposed on Iraq, because both men would immediately make huge efforts to get on. A Bush victory would silence critics who say Tony will be exposed."

Relations between No 10 and the Kerry camp seemed to be strained earlier this year when the senator was "out of town" when the prime minister visited to Washington.

But Peter Hain, the Commons leader, paved the way for a kiss and make up meeting when he met Kerry aides such as Bob Shrum during a visit to the campaign in the summer.

"Peter's visit was sanctioned and it is notable that he only visited the Democrats," a government source said.

Tory motives for backing Mr Kerry combine high and low politics. The Howard camp, which fell out with the White House when he was made persona non grata for attacking the prime minister on Iraq, believes a Kerry victory will leave Mr Blair exposed.

"Blair will be the last major world leader arguing how right it was to invade Iraq," a senior aide said.

Other Tories believe a Kerry win will be better for Britain and the US. The health spokesman Simon Burns, Mr Kerry's most fervent Tory supporter, is so excited that he will huddle up in front of CNN for the results.

Mr Burns, who worked on George McGovern's campaign against Nixon in 1972, says: "I will be elated if John Kerry wins. It will allow the USA to gain its respect again in the world community and to work as a partner rather than isolating countries as being 'With us or against us'."

But a band of Tories led by William Hague are still with Mr Bush. They say the president is still the best person for the job.

The frontbencher Tim Loughton, who attended the Republican convention in New York, says: "George Bush is the best bet in terms of standing up to terrorism."


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