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October 3, 2005 3:00 am
David Davis, favourite to win the Conservative leadership contest, has secured the backing of Sir Anthony Bamford, the JCB tycoon, and a clutch of other leading business figures, helping consolidate his position as front-runner.
The Tories gathered in Blackpool yesterday for their annual conference that will provide a showcase for the talents of the five declared leadership contenders. Mr Davis, shadow home secretary, yesterday cast himself as the "Heineken candidate", claiming to reach the parts of the country his party has hitherto failed to reach.
Mr Davis's allies told the Financial Times that Sir Anthony, a stalwart Tory donor, was among those offering their financial support. He is joined by Lord Kalms, the party's former treasurer who founded Dixons; Henry Angest, the head of Arbuthnot Banking Group; Robin Birley, the nightclub owner; Frederick Forsyth, the writer; John Nash, a prominent venture capitalist and Richard Mintz, a property magnate.
The cash will enable Mr Davis to criss-cross the country to woo Tory activists who will play a crucial role in the election of a new leader. According to party leadership rules, MPs choose their two favourite candidates, with the 300,000 members then picking a winner.
With 66 MPs now endorsing Mr Davis, his place in the final round looks as-sured, throwing the spotlight this week on which of his four rivals will face him in the country. The shadow home secretary relishes a clash with Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor, who according to opinion polls is judged by voters as the most likely to challenge Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Mr Davis's allies believe that if he sees off a "big beast" such as Mr Clarke, he will have validated his claim to the leadership.
Mr Davis told the BBC's Sunday AM programme: "One of the problems we have had over time is that people have not had the choice they wanted. And I want the party and the country to have the choice."
Liam Fox, the shadow foreign secretary, who is pitching himself to Mr Davis's right on issues such as abortion, was given a boost yesterday by Stuart Wheeler, the spread-betting magnate who once gave £5m to the Tories. He said Mr Fox was "the right man" for the job.
Mr Davis will today set out his vision of a "new Tory idealism," and challenge the party to "imagine a changed Britain and improved lives".
*A YouGov poll for today's Daily Telegraph has Mr Davis and Mr Clarke neck and neck among Tory party members, both with 30 per cent support. In The Times, a Populus poll says three-quarters of Tories believe the contest has shown the party short of strong leaders.
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