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EDITIONS
Thursday, 13 September, 2001, 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK
New leader faces huge challenge
Former Tory leader William Hague
Hague failed to save the Tories from defeat
Nick Assinder

The battle for the leadership of the Tory party may be finally over - but the winner now faces a far more challenging task.

His party is demoralised, disunited and, currently, unelectable. Many members and backbenchers have even written off the next election as unwinnable.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair's lead is daunting
And, even before the result was announced, many were doubting whether the party would get the right man to take the Tories into the next election.

The bruising leadership contest, one of the most bitter ever seen in Tory ranks, may only have made matters worse.

William Hague's successor has a huge job on his hands if he is to turn his party into an effective opposition and give it any chance of winning the next election.

The task is to woo back the six million voters who have deserted the party over the past few years.

Reunite party

He will have to hammer out new policies on the big issues like taxation and public spending.

He will need to make the party attractive to younger voters who see it as ageing and irrelevant.

Euro coins
The euro has the power to split party
And he will need to show he has the stature and character to take on Tony Blair and seriously dent his leadership.

But, above all else, he will have to reunite a party which has for years appeared irreversibly locked in a civil war over Europe and the single currency.

No one expects their new leader to abandon his principled views on Europe, but most hope he will succeed in his ambition of driving it way down the political agenda.

If the last general election proved anything it was that voters are far more concerned with issues like education and the health service than the intricacies of the EU, or even whether or not Britain joins the euro - a decision they believe can be put off until another day.

Self discipline

One major problem, however, is that until Labour holds its promised referendum on euro membership and the British public finally ends the argument once and for all, it will hang over the Tories like a thundercloud.

And, with growing signs that the government is backing away from a referendum before the next election, it will take a huge act of self discipline - of a sort not yet seen in Tory ranks - for the rival factions not to keep sniping at each other.

For the enthusiasts on both sides of the debate, Europe and Britain's future in it is the single most important issue to have faced the country since the second world war.

So the new leader of the opposition faces a daunting task. But it is not an impossible one.

Hope for disaster

It is all too easy to forget how, in the 1980s, the Labour party was in a very similar position.

It was riven by internal feuding and spent more time looking inwards than making any real impact on the apparently unassailable Tory dominance.

Its policies on issues like defence and taxation were widely opposed and even feared.

Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock
Kinnock struggled to reunite the Labour Party
And, despite Neil Kinnock's best efforts to unite the party and cast himself as a winner, it failed to select a leader who could appeal to voters across the political spectrum.

But the tide did eventually turn with the emergence of Tony Blair and the implosion of the Tory party.

The new party leader cannot simply hope for disaster to befall the Labour party, so he must meet the challenge of opposition head on.

And, while he steps into the job full of enthusiasm and grand plans, the future for both him and his party is far from clear.



Analysis

Winner and loser

TALKING POINT

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