Cameron ahead on points

Two contenders for the Tory leadership crown, Kenneth Clarke and David Cameron, set out their stall in Blackpool yesterday for the Tory leadership crown.

Two contenders for the Tory leadership crown, Kenneth Clarke and David Cameron, set out their stall in Blackpool yesterday for the Tory leadership crown. Political Editor Graham Dines says Cameron won hands down.

AT 38, David Cameron is 27 years the junior of Kenneth Clarke - the young pretender and standard bearer of the Tory modernisers against the old timer and the last remaining "big beast" in the Conservative jungle who insists that only his experience and popularity among the voters at large can deliver victory.

Yesterday, they both made impassioned pleas to Tory delegates in Blackpool to be given the opportunity to end the wilderness years of opposition.

Cameron insists the party has to change and adapt to appeal to today's inclusive society, especially in the cities, while Clarke gave a robust defence of his economic competence as John Major's Chancellor and launched into a fierce attack on the record of Gordon Brown.

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With Shadow Home Secretary David Davis in the clear lead among MPs, only one other person will be on the ballot paper when the Tory rank-and-file are asked to choose who they want to succeed Michael Howard.

So far, five candidates have declared themselves in the leadership race - Mr Clarke, Mr Cameron, Mr Davis, Dr Liam Fox and Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

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MPs begin voting in the elimination rounds next week. The betting is that Sir Malcolm and Dr Fox will be eliminated quickly, leaving the other three to slug it out.

That's why this week's party conference is so important - it has given the candidates a platform to spell out their ideas is speeches lasting no more than 15 minutes.

With Mr Davis speaking today, conference sessions yesterday were dominated Cameron and Clarke.

Cameron made an instant impression, giving a faultless performance. Speaking without notes - a high-risk strategy - his appeal to the activists to modernise was greeted with a five minute standing ovation.

Mr Cameron said there was thing Gordon Brown feared more than anything else - "a Conservative Party that has the courage to change.

"So let's give him the fright of his life. We don't just need new policies or presentation or organisation or even having a young, passionate leader - though come to think of it, that might not be such a bad idea!

"We've got to recognise that we're in third place among the under 35s. That we've lost support among women. That public servants no longer think we're on their side.

"We have to change and modernise our culture and attitudes and identity. When I say change, I'm not talking about some slick re-branding exercise.

"What I'm talking about is fundamental change, so that when we fight the next election street by street, house by house, flat by flat, we have a message that is relevant to people's lives today, that shows we're comfortable with modern Britain, and that we believe our best days lie ahead."

Mr Cameron added: "Let's build a new generation of Conservatives, let's switch a new generation on to Conservative ideas, let's dream a new generation of Conservative dreams.

"Let the message go out from this conference - a modern, compassionate Conservatism is right for our time, right for our party, and right for our country.

"If we go for it, if we seize it, if we fight for it with every ounce of passion, vigour and energy from now until the next election - nothing and no-one can stop us."

Kenneth Clarke returned to his often repeated mantra - "I am fed up with our party losing elections.

"If you are fed up and angry with our plight, you have a choice. You can give up, bail out, and call it a day. Or you can get stuck in, decide to fight, and give it your all. That is what I intend to do, and I know it is what you intend to do."

He hung his case for leadership around his record as Chancellor of the Exchequer and the stewardship of the Treasury for the past eight years under Gordon Brown.

"I do not have to prove my economic competence to the British public. I won my reputation over four years as Chancellor," said Mr Clarke.

"I am the only person in today's House of Commons ever to have made real reductions in income tax - I cut 2p off the basic rate.

"When Gordon Brown shaved a penny off, he quickly slapped it back on National Insurance. His reduction was cosmetic - my cuts were for real. That's the difference between Conservative and Labour."

Mr Clarke said "This is the third party conference in three weeks with a leadership contest. Charles Kennedy just hung on - that is good news.

"Labour's two big beasts yet again locked horns over when one should hand over the baton to the other.

"We Conservatives now have to choose an even bigger beast than either of them - to push Labour out of office at the next general election and return us to government."

Mr Clarke admitted he may not be everyone's cup of tea but he promised: "If you give me the chance to lead this party, I will lead it unspun.

"I will say what I think, and try to do what I say, as I have always done in politics. I want Conservative values to win again and, with you, to return to our task of making this country an even better place to live in.

"We are searching for a Prime Minister in waiting. Oh boy, have you kept me waiting" - a reference to his unsuccessful bids in 1997 and 2001.

Ken Clarke's jokes were better than Mr Cameron's. But it was the young pretender's day and the modernisers are delighted.

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