Howard admits: I failed

MICHAEL Howard admitted yesterday he had been a failure and that was why he was quitting as Tory leader despite the party's gains at the General Election.

By Graham Dines

MICHAEL Howard admitted yesterday he had been a failure and that was why he was quitting as Tory leader despite the party's gains at the General Election.

Mr Howard told delegates in Blackpool's Winter Gardens on the closing day of the Conservative conference that he took full responsibility for the party's defeat.

“We made progress. For the first 22 years we came out of an election with many more MPs than we had when we went into. We won more votes than Labour in England.


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“We made crucial issues like school discipline, respect and immigration the most important in British politics. But at the end of the day we didn't win.

“And let's be honest with each other, we didn't even come close to winning.”

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Mr Howard admitted: “My best turned out to be not good enough. A year ago I stood before you and stressed the importance of accountability.

“That's why I'm standing down. It's about keeping your promises - it's called accountability.”

Mr Howard, who has been Conservative leader for nearly two years, has sparked a leadership contest that has galvanised Tory activists in Blackpool. The five declared contenders, all members of the Shadow Cabinet, sat in close proximity to each other on the conference stage.

Mr Howard joked that he had promised not to say whom he was supporting in the contest. “I've changed my mind. I tell who I want to be the next Leader of the Opposition - it's Gordon Brown.”

He urged Tory contenders in the coming weeks not to be offensive about each other, not to run down the party. “Let's show we can elect a new leader without bitterness and backbiting.

“And then let's unite behind that new leader - not just for a year or two, but for a whole Parliament, to do the same.

“This week we've heard a lot about change. Yes, we must change. But we must not be obsessed by talking about ourselves, to ourselves, at Westminster.”

Mr Howard said the party under its new leader had a long way to go. “It will be hard - picking yourself up after defeat always is.

“We'll need stamina and comradeship. We'll need to show respect for each other, as well as our opponents.

“We'll not always agree, but when we differ we must do so as friends, not as foes.”

Mr Howard said the Tories would be fighting the next election trying to appeal to first time voters born during Margaret Thatcher's final months as Prime Minister and after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Their youth has been shaped by the Internet and the iPod, by cheap flights and mobile phones. It's been overshadowed by the destruction of the Twin Towers and the bombings in London.

“And it's been fired up by impatience for action on climate change and desperate poverty in Africa. So we must talk about what matters to them in today's world - their world, the world as it is, not the world as it was.”

Mr Howard said the Government's new anti terror legislation had to be examined in minute detail. “Some of the new powers are far reaching.

“So we have a simple test. No law should undermine the basic freedoms which we are seeking to defend. We will not be reassured by Labour promises that they will be used with commonsense.

“Why? Because last week in Brighton, a man - and 82 year-old man - was detained using anti-terror legislation because he dared to disagree with the Foreigm Secretary.

“Legislation that the very same Foreign Secretary had promised `would not threaten in any way the right to demonstrate peacefully.'

“That should never have happened and should never be allowed to happen again.”

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