Howard takes over Tory leadership

Michael Howard has, as expected, been confirmed today as the next leader of the Conservative Party.

The former Shadow chancellor was the only name put forward ahead of today's nomination deadline, and so ascended to the leadership without the need for a ballot of the party's 165 MPs.

The announcement was made by the chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Michael Spicer, shortly after midday today. While party rules state that the grassroots membership can be asked to ratify Mr Howard's leadership, it is an expensive process and is not thought likely to be employed. He is expected to name his cabinet over the weekend.

While the leadership of Iain Duncan Smith disintegrated in a manner with which voters have become familiar last week, the ensuing clamour from a host of hopeful candidates did not materialise – as all but Michael Howard have ruled themselves out of the top post.

An MP for Folkestone and Hythe 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 viewed as a genuinely popular figure 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.


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