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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 September 2005, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
Fox attempts a different tone
By Terry Stiastny
BBC News political correspondent

Liam Fox launched his challenge for the Conservative leadership outside a converted church in North London, which now serves as a centre for treating the mentally ill.

Dr Liam Fox and his fiancee Jesme Baird outside the Hillside Clubhouse in north London,.
Dr Fox poses for the cameras with fiancee Jesme Baird

He stood on his own - apart from the journalists and press officers watching him.

This was intentional: as Liam Fox himself put it, "We have no razzmatazz, no glitzy big launch for you, no smiling, happy faces on College Green."

This launch was intended to take the latest declared candidate for the race to run the Conservative party away from Westminster, and away from what he sees as the Tory party's self-obsession.

It was a deliberate contrast with Ken Clarke's launch of his campaign - which had been, in traditional style, surrounded by his campaign supporters on the doorstep of a Westminster club.

'Real issues'

Liam Fox believes that until now, his party has spent too much time talking about itself and not enough discussing the policies, rather than the personalities, which it offers to the voters.

In another soundbite which he used at the launch, the party should concentrate on "real issues in real places with real people".

A Liam Fox leadership, he promised in an article for the Daily Telegraph, would be about "sound defence; keeping more of what you earn; less government interference in people's lives; a sense of family, community and respect for the law; Britain controlling its own destiny."

His choice of a centre for people who'd had mental illness was determined, he said, by a longstanding interest in the subject.

As a former GP himself, Liam Fox believes that how society deals with people with mental health problems is a "totemic" issue for how to deal with what he calls a "broken society" as a whole.

Lower taxes

At this stage, of course, there's little detail on what coping with a "broken society" actually means in terms of concrete policy proposals.

Liam Fox mentions the problems of truancy and the lack of stability in families; it's a broadly right of centre agenda, which also includes the promise of lower taxes, but he hasn't yet explained how he would solve society's problems.

And as much as he would like to concentrate on issues of policy rather than of character, Liam Fox faces another potential problem: he's entering a race where several of the other candidates, whether declared or undeclared, are more easily recognisable than he is.

Dr Fox has been shadow health secretary, party chairman and now shadow foreign secretary, but to many outside Westminster he is a less familiar face than his rivals.

On Thursday morning, he pointed out that some other recent Tory leaders, such as Iain Duncan Smith, started out as far from the favourites in their contests. It's perhaps not a comparison he would like to draw too closely.

One other uncertainty in this race remains - exactly who will choose the next leader.

Dr Fox is staking out ground with the party activists by saying that he doesn't support a change in the rules to return the final choice to MPs, perhaps in anticipation that party volunteers will vote to reject the new rules, and then in turn show their support for those who agreed with them.

Watch Liam Fox setting out his agenda

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