The Racing Card

The Bet - Who will be the next Tory leader?

Michael Portillo: 8-11
Kenneth Clarke: 13-8
Iain Duncan Smith: 13-2
David Davis: 12-1
Michael Ancram: 14-1

Source: William Hill

Perhaps even more exciting than the Tory leadership contest itself is the battle of the political columnists. At the Sunday Telegraph, Matthew d'Ancona is very much a Portillo supporter - at least, I think he is, judging by his attacks on Clarke and Ancram. The columnist I laughed at most was Norman Tebbit, who advised against Portillo because he wasn't "a normal family man".

It seems inconceivable that this Eurosceptic Tory parliamentary party could end up with Clarke as leader, yet that is what will probably happen if he gets into the final ballot. This is why, as we speculated last week, there is now strong talk of tactical voting among Tory MPs. It will all start after the first ballot of MPs, when Davis and Ancram will either be voted out or pull out voluntarily. It is assumed that, at this stage, Portillo will be ahead and the question will be: can some Portillo supporters vote for Duncan Smith to keep Clarke off the final ballot? This is a dangerous game to play, but probably one Portillo will have to join in if he is to win.

This tactical voting puts Duncan Smith in a stronger position than he really is, which is why the bookies still have him in the race at 13-2. Clarke, who started out with Sporting Index at 14-1, and was still at 7-1 days before he announced he would run, is now a measly 13-8. He won't mind not being favourite because, as we've said often enough, the favourite in this particular race hardly ever wins. So it could be the man Labour fears most who becomes the next Tory leader, and, if you want to know who that is, ask Mandelson - whoever he tips, it will be the other one.

I'm off to Italy for three weeks. By the time I return, we still won't know who is the new Tory leader. But, judging by the polls, no one cares.

This article first appeared in the 09 July 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Just you wait until I grow up