Britain’s Conservative Party held its annual conference last week in Blackpool
and, like Labour’s the week before, it was dominated by leadership
speculation. Its losing leader from this year’s election, Michael
Howard, is stepping down; before doing so, he tried to ensure that his
successor would be elected just by the parliamentary party, but this
change failed to win sufficient support.

The new leader will therefore be elected by the party membership as a
whole over the next two months, but only after the parliamentary party
has first narrowed the field down to two candidates (see Wikipedia:
for a good explanation of the rules). Since there are currently four
serious candidates, the selection of the final two will be extremely

Front-runner for several months has been shadow home secretary David
Davis, who promises “more of the same” – hard-line law & order,
Eurosceptic and pro-war – policies that appeal to party members
despite their feeble electoral record. But Davis’s speech to conference
last week was poorly received, and the need to find a candidate who can
finally win an election for them has many Tories turning instead to his
more centrist rivals, Kenneth Clarke and David Cameron.

Clarke is by far the most experienced of the contenders, and had been
seen as Davis’s main rival. But being both pro-European and against the
Iraq war probably puts him too far out of the Tory mainstream. Instead,
moderate support seems to be flocking to the youngest candidate,
David Cameron, whose performance at Blackpool was marked as
particularly impressive; the betting market now has him as favourite.

It seems almost certain that the MPs will select one moderate and one
right-winger to go into the ballot; if Davis is too badly damaged, the
nod could go to the fourth candidate, shadow foreign secretary Liam
Fox. A Fox-Cameron contest would offer a clear ideological choice, but
would also ensure that, whoever won, the party would undergo
generational change.

For some light relief on the subject, be sure to visit The Guardian‘s Tory leadership coconut shy – another internet media initiative that somebody should take up in Australia.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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