- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2001

LONDON — Britains Conservatives, routed at the polls two weeks ago, have begun a soul-searching leadership contest in which all contenders concede the party has lost touch with the British people.
Two candidates joined the race yesterday — the partys defense spokesman, Iain Duncan Smith, and little-known lawmaker David Davis.
They face front-runner Michael Portillo, a charismatic former protege of ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who now says he wants to move the party to the center. Mr. Portillos heavy support among Tory lawmakers makes it likely that he will be one of the two finalists in a leadership vote by the partys grass-roots members.
The once-mighty Tories, Britains dominant party in the 20th century, have been humbled by their second straight trouncing by Prime Minister Tony Blairs Labor Party.
Many party members blame leader William Hague, who stepped down the day after the election, for alienating voters with a campaign that focused heavily on opposing Britains entry into the European single currency and allowed Labor to campaign on improving health care and education.
Mr. Portillo, Mr. Duncan Smith and Mr. Davis all oppose British entry into the single currency, but all seem eager to move away from the issue.
"We must not be obsessed with this issue, nor should the majoritys view on it be a test of party loyalty," Mr. Davis said. "As the public made clear at the election, the euro is a unique issue that will ultimately be settled at a referendum."
Mr. Duncan Smith suggested that Conservative advocates of the single currency would be recruited as part of his leadership team, and would even be permitted to urge a "yes" vote in a referendum.
The leadership campaign, which began before party leaders had agreed on a timetable, may not be concluded until September. No date has been set for closing nominations, but party headquarters said other candidates probably have a month to decide whether to run.
Mr. Duncan Smith, 47, a former army officer regarded by supporters as bright and dependable, acknowledged the party had been painted by opponents as "a narrow sect" and needed to reconnect with the British people if it was to regain the power it held from 1979 to 1997.
"The Conservative Party must accept the need for change. We must broaden the base and the appeal of the party," he said at his campaign kickoff yesterday.
"We need again to demonstrate that the party is open to all those who share our values," especially women and minorities, he added.
Membership in the euro is opposed by most Tories, but supported by a Europhile minority led by Kenneth Clark, a popular former treasury chief who many party members hope will run for the leadership. He says he is still considering the matter.
Mr. Duncan Smith said one of his goals was "to close the book on divisions on Europe."
"The Conservative front bench must be open to all the talents," he said.
Equally broad is the divide between the newfound social liberalism of Mr. Portillo — the son of a Spanish refugee who has admitted to homosexual experiences as a young man — and the traditional values of many of the partys aging supporters.

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