UK Conservatives Ditch Liberal Candidate In Leadership Race

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London ( - Conservative lawmakers in the UK have selected two final candidates to lead their party following its recent election defeat, throwing out a contender on the party's liberal wing who had called for it to become more "inclusive."

Michael Portillo's career in front-line Conservative politics was effectively in tatters Wednesday, after he lost out in a three-way ballot to Iain Duncan Smith and Kenneth Clarke.

He said he would not serve in a cabinet under either of the two remaining candidates and added: "I think the time has come for me to seek other things to do."

Portillo, who has admitted to homosexual experiences in his youth, had initially been widely seen as the favorite to win the contest to succeed William Hague.

But his appeals for the Conservatives to "adapt or die," and become more acceptable to people irrespective of their race, creed or sexual preferences, did not resonate sufficiently with lawmakers who voted him out by secret ballot.

Party activists across Britain will now have the final say between the two survivors, faced with a clear choice between the right-wing, euro-skeptic Duncan Smith and a more liberal Clarke, who is an enthusiastic supporter of Britain joining the single European currency.

Duncan Smith, 47, who has no previous Cabinet experience, called after the vote for the party to stick to traditional values. To win the next election, he said, the Conservative Party had to help voters to discover their "innate conservatism."

Among other things, this will include fighting to save the British pound sterling currency, rather than abandoning it for the euro.

Clarke, 61, a former minister in the Margaret Thatcher and John Major governments, said the party had to put aside its "fanaticism" regarding the euro and concentrate on policy areas the Conservatives lost to Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor Party during the 1990s.

But although Clarke wants the focus removed from the euro issue, euro-skeptic members in local party associations have already warned of leaving the Conservatives if the pro-euro candidate won the leadership.

Among the broader British electorate, however, Clarke is the most popular leading Conservative, according to opinion polls.

The result of the party activist postal ballot will be announced in early September.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow