The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tories wield the broom

London, Oct. 30 (Reuters): Veteran Right-winger and former minister Michael Howard launched a long-awaited bid today for the leadership of Britain’s flailing Conservative Party and pledged to head for the political centre ground to challenge Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Having just ousted its ineffectual leader Iain Duncan Smith, the party of former greats Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill hopes to anoint Howard as a heavyweight who can restore the party’s former glories.

Howard, 62, accepted the challenge as other senior Conservatives stood aside in his favour — an attempt to unite quickly after months of infighting.

He announced his candidature with what analysts said amounted to a coronation speech but other, maverick contenders could still come forward to challenge him, greatly drawing out the election process.

“At its best we are a party broad and generous... a party capable of representing all Britain and all Britons,” Howard told a news conference in a glitzy London art gallery. “I will lead this party from its centre. I will call on the talents of all in the party.”

Analysts said although Howard’s greater stature and sharpness in debate would test the Prime Minister more sternly than the hapless Duncan Smith ever did, he was unlikely to overturn Labour’s electoral dominance in the 18 months or so before the next general election. But Howard’s supporters believe he will succeed where Duncan Smith failed — holding Blair to account over anything from public services to the Iraq war, which most Britons opposed.

Blair said he would welcome back his old adversary Howard but dismissed the idea that he could mimic Labour’s success in moving from radical politics to the middle ground.

“The policy divide will become a lot more real,” he told BBC Radio.

“If you look at their policies — where they stack up they are extreme and where they are not extreme they don’t stack up.”

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