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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 October, 2004, 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK
Analysis: Howard's message
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent in Bournemouth

Michael Howard, Conservative Party leader
Howard: Trust is key message
The contrast between Michael Howard's speech and his predecessor's could not have been more stark.

This was not "the quiet man" of British politics, neither was it the apologetic social liberal the party has recently been presented with.

Mr Howard's first speech as leader was far more a traditional, old-style Conservative leader's speech.

And as such, it appealed to all the old - some would say right-wing - instincts of this party conference.

Patriotic, tough on criminals and immigration, deeply sceptical about Europe and placing the family and personal responsibility at the core of their beliefs.

There was even a hint of the old "prison works" message Mr Howard used to delight the faithful with.

There were appeals for members of any and all parties to come and join the Tories - particularly pertinent on the day UKIP lost its major bankroller, still probably the biggest development of the conference.

Move on

But there was none of the recent stuff about inclusivity and ditching the nasty party image.

That is not to say these have been abandoned, simply that the new leader believes the time has come to stop apologising and move on.

There was some contrition - notably the admission that past governments failed to keep election promises.

And there was an appeal for social justice through choice in public services.

Much of the policy detail had already been set out by shadow ministers, and the core message had been pre-released.

That message was simple: "Trust me".

More action

Unlike Tony Blair who has a delivery unit but has failed to deliver, who lied over Iraq and misled on taxation, the Conservative Party, he promised, would do what it promised.

There would be less talk and more action.

You could almost have imagined him making this speech from the same platform a decade ago. And he certainly knows how to work this conference.

His closing passage, in which he moved away from the lectern in almost chatty and deliberately personal mode, hit the spot for the conference.

"We all love our country. But everything I have and everything I am I owe to this country," he said.

"I was born in July 1941, two weeks after Hitler invaded Russia. Those were very dark days.

"In the next four years millions of people were killed, many were killed on the battlefield at sea and in the air. Many were killed in cities blitzed from the air.

"And many were killed in the concentration camps set up by one of the cruellest tyrannies the world has seen.

"My grandmother was one of those killed in the concentration camps. If it hadn't been for Winston Churchill, and if it hadn't been for Britain, I would have been one of them.

"That is why when I say I owe everything to this country, I really do mean it. I owe my life to it."

Hard message

Powerful stuff which, in many ways, went directly to what many long standing Conservatives believe is the soul of their party.

But, ultimately, this speech was all about the "t" word.

That is Mr Howard's pitch to the electorate in the run up to the next election.

He has listened to the focus groups and opinion polls and taken the message that the breakdown in trust in politicians sparked, he believes, by Labour, has infected all parties and all politicians.

The Tories, he claims, will put an end to that and restore trust in politicians.

It is a hard message to sell. It amounts to asking people to trust him because, this time, he really means it.

And in that, there is more than a distant echo of Tony Blair's 1997 general election pitch.




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