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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 October, 2004, 17:39 GMT 18:39 UK
Howard says Tories can still win
Michael Howard and his wife Sandra arrive in Bournemouth
Mr Howard arrived in Bournemouth saying fighting crime was a priority
The Tories can win the next election despite coming fourth after UKIP at the Hartlepool by-election, party leader Michael Howard has told the BBC.

He agreed Thursday's result was bad, but argued that it did not have much bearing on the general election.

Arriving in Bournemouth for his party's conference, Mr Howard pledged to make fighting crime a priority and to make the party accountable to electors.

He said he would use the conference to set out a "timetable for action".

UKIP attack

Later Tory co-chairman Liam Fox told journalists in Bournemouth the party had to show disillusioned voters this week it could be an attractive alternative to Labour.

He said although voters had "fallen out of love with Tony Blair they haven't yet fallen in love with the Conservatives".

Dr Fox added that UKIP had "shown their true colours" by saying at the weekend that they wanted to "kill" the Tories.

What we have to do is to smash the barrier of cynicism through which people now look at all politicians
Michael Howard, Conservative Party leader

Mr Howard told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost programme he would not only tell voters what the Tories would do if they won power, but also when they planned to do it.

"What we have to do is to smash the barrier of cynicism through which people now look at all politicians," he said.

Mr Howard will hope to put Hartlepool behind him but the outcome, in which Labour narrowly retained the seat beating off a Lib Dem challenge, could cast a shadow over what could be his last party conference before a general election.

Crime 'out of control'

He denied the party needed a miracle to win the next election, but added: "We do need to do a lot more".

And he dismissed suggestions that the best the party could hope for in a national vote was to finish second ahead of the Liberal Democrats.

Arriving at the conference on Sunday, Mr Howard said crime was out of control and would be his "first priority".

No tax pledges

But he said he would not make any firm commitments on cutting taxes, until he knew whether it was affordable.

Cabinet Officer minister Ruth Kelly accused him of planning "to take Britain back to a failed Tory past of cuts to schools, hospitals and the police".

And the Liberal Democrats accused the Tories of having no clear plans, because they knew they could not win the election and were reduced to "fighting it out with UKIP".

Tony Blair has fired the starting pistol for the race for his succession and everybody is going to be jostling for position
Michael Howard
Mr Howard was asked if he was marching his party rightwards on issues like Europe and immigration in a bid to shore-up votes that have been won away from the Tories by UKIP.

"I don't accept that this is a basis for looking at these things. I don't really accept this distinction between right and left and centre," he said.

And he argued that the political landscape had changed "hugely" in the wake of Tony Blair's announcement that he wanted to be premier for a full third term.

"Tony Blair has fired the starting pistol for the race for his succession and everybody is going to be jostling for position, everybody is going to be vying for the succession," he said.

TV debate call

"The truth is that everybody is going to be looking for their own advantage and the country's going to come a poor second."

The Tory leader also challenged Mr Blair to a US-style televised debate in the election campaign.

"I think the people of our country when it comes to an election ought to see the leaders of the major parties debating against each other in the way they do in America," he said.

Michael Howard says the Hartlepool result was 'bad'

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