David Cameron and David Davis on Friday embark on a six-week battle to decide who will become the next Conservative leader, competing in a head-to-head contest decided by the party's 250,000 members. The two were last night selected to go forward to the next stage of the contest after Liam Fox was eliminated in a final ballot of the party's 198 MPs at Westminster. Mr Cameron received 90 votes in the ballot, Mr Davis 57 and Mr Fox 51.

Mr Cameron remains the clear favourite to win the leadership following an opinion poll this week suggesting he is backed by nearly 60 per cent of Tory members.

The shadow education secretary's aides believed that they would have faced a tougher battle against Mr Fox who, as a former party chairman, had a strong following among members across the country.

However, there was mild disappointment for Mr Cameron, who fell short of securing the endorsement of more than half his colleagues in yesterday's ballot.

Mr Davis's inclusion in the final round gives him one last chance to win the leadership after an otherwise lacklustre campaign.

But his score of 57 votes amounted to a further reduction from the public endorsements by 67 MPs that he enjoyed before the contest.

Both candidates have agreed that they will appear side-by-side at up to 11 hustings around the country. The ballot of party members will open on November 4, with the result declared on December 6.

Speaking after the result, Mr Cameron said he wanted to be a “voice for change, optimism and hope.” Mr Davis said that the “real battle” was just beginning.

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