Howard unveils Tory leadership candidacy

While the Tory leadership has disintegrated in a manner with which voters have become familiar, the ensuing clamour from a host of hopeful candidates has not yet materialised – as almost all but Michael Howard have ruled themselves out of the top post.

The Shadow Chancellor, as expected, launched his bid to become leader at a press conference in London earlier today. So far he is the only runner on the track, with others preferring to pledge support or maintain a low profile.

The IDS farewell applause was still in the air when Shadow Deputy Prime Minister David Davis announced to the press at around 7.30pm last night that he was stepping aside in support of his frontbench colleague Michael Howard.

Michael Ancram, Tim Yeo, Oliver Letwin – all thoroughbred candidates – have followed Mr Davis's lead and lent their backing to the Shadow Chancellor.

With Michael Portillo and Ken Clarke ruling themselves out of the contest, the only heavyweight challenger remaining is the party chairman Teresa May – who is not thought to be considering entry.

Mr Howard's campaign got off to a good start today. Former party leader William Hague told reporters that the Folkestone and Hyth MP, who served as Home Secretary for four years (1993-1997), had the makings of a good leader.

An MP since 1983, Mr Howard has served almost his entire parliamentary career on the Tory frontbenches. He is acknowledged as a skilled and experienced politician, who should be able to put the Prime Minister under more pressure in Parliament.

However, he is not genuinely popular across the party, as one colleague described him as a personality lacking in "warmth". But it was in 1997 that he was most famously characterised by Ann Widdecombe, a junior prisons minister at the time, as "having something of the night about him" – a jibe that he has not been able to shake off.

Surprisingly, Miss Widdecombe's spat with Michael Howard has not stopped her from offering him her backing as well.

The Tories, whose plotters finished off Thatcher and IDS, almost destroyed Major and who made William Hague's life uncomfortable, will now be keen to back a safe pair of hands to take them into the general election. A protracted leadership struggle over the coming fortnight could well prove costly in the long run, and so Howard may well find an unobstructed path before him.

The nominations must be received by the backbench 1922 Committee by 12pm on November 6.


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