Saturday, March 18, 2006

Howard's Way out

Michael Howard has announced he will be stepping down as an MP at the end of this Parliament. A pity - he will only be 69. In the US Strom Thurmond was still in the Senate when he turned 100!

Guy Fawkes has a good tribute to Howard and there will be others.

I remember the week Howard became leader quite well. The party had been wandering aimlessly, with Iain Duncan Smith being increasingly embattled and no-one could see a way forward. Then IDS fell and many worried that yet another leadership election would just lead to more wrangling and uncertainty.

Instead Howard rapidly established his claims as the candidate who could unite the party and take it forward. After years of despair the Conservative Party finally went on the front foot, taking the fight to Not So Very New Labour. It speaks volumes that Labour were forced to resort to their worn out tactic of getting the party name wrong and claiming the leader was an extreme right winger, rather than offering coherent counter arguments.

Howard did not win the last general election, it is ture, but he made the first advance in seat terms since the mid 1980s. And his final months at leader saw a brilliant strategy of seeing off attempts to force an immediate leadership election and giving the party time to reflect and discuss the way forward. The main legacy of Howard's leadership is the rise of David Cameron. It is a pity will not be in the Commons to watch Cameron from the government backbenches.

But he has made a few mistakes. Why on earth does he support Liverpool?!

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