06/05/2005

Conservatives now 'stronger opposition' claims Howard

Conservative leader Michael Howard has conceded defeat to Tony Blair and the Labour party in the General Election.

Although announcing his intention to step down as Conservative party leader today, Mr Howard declared that the party was now a “stronger opposition” to Labour.

He said that, at 63, he felt he would be too old to lead the party in the next general election and wanted to stand aside “sooner rather than later” to let a younger leader take over.

Mr Howard will, however remain in charge of the party until a decision has been made as to whether or not the rules for electing a new leader should be changed.

The Conservatives had 197 seats, with a few seats still to be declared, following the election, which has been more successful for the party than recent polls had suggested. Although, it looks like the Conservatives will get 33% of the vote, they have gained more than 30 seats. In among those wins were high profile defeats of Labour ministers such as Stephen Twigg, who famously beat Michael Portillo in 1997 to win the Enfield Southgate seat, Chris Leslie in Shipley and Melanie Johnson in Welwyn Hatfield.

The Conservatives also enjoyed huge success in London – aside from Enfield Southgate, Justine Greening regained the seat in Putney and the party also regained seats in Croydon Central and Wimbledon and Hammersmith and Fulham, from Labour. The Conservatives also achieved several victories over the Liberal Democrats, taking seats in Guildford, Ludlow, Newbury and Weston-super-Mare.

The Liberal Democrats had mounted a strong campaign to unseat several of the Conservatives main members. The “decapitation strategy”, however, failed to work with Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin, Shadow Home Secretary David Davis and Shadow Family Secretary Theresa May all retaining their seats. The only casualty was Shadow Education Secretary Tim Collins, who lost his seat in Westmoreland and Lonsdale to Lib Dem Tim Farron.

The Conservatives were also celebrating the election of their first-ever black MP with Adam Afriye taking the Windsor seat.

Speaking after he was returned as MP for Folkestone and Hythe, Mr Howard said that the Conservatives had made a “significant step” towards recovery in the election. He said: “The test that faces us in the next Parliament is to complete that recovery.”

Mr Howard added: “I’m proud of the campaign we’ve fought. We’ve taken a stand on things that matter to our country.”

Mr Howard also congratulated Tony Blair on Labour’s election win, although he warned him that the time had come for “action and not talk”.

(KMcA/SP)

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