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Howard Emerges as Likely Leader of British Conservatives - 2003-10-30

Former British Home Secretary Michael Howard has emerged as the likely new leader of the Conservative Party, which is counting on him to challenge Prime Minister Tony Blair for his job. Mr. Howard declared his candidacy a day after the party dumped Iain Duncan Smith as its leader.

Within 24 hours, the Conservative Party has rallied around Mr. Howard after voting out Mr. Duncan Smith.

Mr. Howard, 62, a former home secretary in the last Conservative government, told reporters he feels duty-bound to lead the party against the Labor government of Prime Minister Blair.

"The most profound belief I have is that everyone was put on this earth to make the most of whatever abilities and talents they possess," he said. "And if you have the opportunity to put those abilities and talents at the service of your fellow countrymen, you have a duty to do so. That's the duty I intend to serve."

So far, Mr. Howard is the only declared candidate, and most other senior Conservative politicians say they will not challenge him. Nominations close next Thursday, and if no one else runs, Mr. Howard will be installed by acclamation.

His campaign manager, Liam Fox, said the Conservatives need someone with Mr. Howard's skills to take on Mr. Blair.

"The party wants to rally around a figure which has a lot of experience, a big hitter, somebody who has landed blows on Tony Blair in the past, and that's Michael Howard," said Mr. Fox.

For his part, Tony Blair says he would look forward to debating Mr. Howard as he did when he was Labor's home affairs spokesman in the early 1990s. The prime minister told an interviewer he believes Mr. Howard would define a sharper and more extreme policy divide between Conservatives and Labor.

Mr. Howard oversaw a 15 percent drop in crime statistics during his tenure in the Home Office. He was also a loyalist of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and he has been critical of stronger ties between Britain and the European Union.