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Britain's Conservatives Choose Howard as New Leader - 2003-11-06

Britain's opposition Conservative Party has chosen Michael Howard as its new leader.

The chairman of the Conservative Party delegation in parliament, Michael Spicer, announced that Mr. Howard had won by acclamation, because no other candidate challenged him.

"There was one valid nomination, that of the right honorable Michael Howard, member of Parliament from Folkestone and Hythe," he said. "Under the rules of the party, I, therefore, declare that Michael Howard is the elected leader of the Conservative Party and of her majesty's opposition."

The Conservatives, known as Tories, are hoping that Mr. Howard can lead an effective challenge against Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labor Party, which has ruled Britain since 1997. The next general election is expected in 2005.

Mr. Howard is a 62-year-old former home affairs minister. He is identified with the right-wing, Euro-skeptic branch of the Conservatives, which dominated during the rule of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

But he promises to run the party from the center. One Tory member of parliament, Ian Taylor, told British radio Mr. Howard is making an effort to accommodate Conservatives who want good ties with both Europe and America.

"One of the things Michael has been doing in the last few days is stressing how important it is to rebuild within Europe a more positive view about the American alliance," said Ian Taylor. "I think that is very important, understanding that that can only be done if we are playing a full part within the European Union."

Leaders of Mr. Blair's Labor Party quickly jumped on Mr. Howard's past. Cabinet Minister John Reid charged that Mr. Howard's record shows he is out of touch with ordinary Britons.

"This was the leading advocate, Michael Howard, of the poll tax, the most unfair tax ever brought into this country, and the leading opponent of the minimum wage, one of the most fair things ever done," he said.

Mr. Howard replaces Iain Duncan Smith, who was voted out last week by Conservative lawmakers, worried that he was not making sufficient progress against the Labor Party in public opinion polls, despite Mr. Blair's fall in popularity because of the Iraq war.