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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 October, 2004, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Analysis: Howard's week
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent in Bournemouth

Michael Howard, Conservative Party leader
Howard: Trust is key message
"The sun has come out in Bournemouth and we are on our way."

After a week of mixed political weather, Michael Howard felt his party's week in the seaside resort had ended on a high note.

In shirt-sleeve mode - and after a risky, occasionally bristly but effective on-stage interview with TV veteran Michael Brunson - the Tory leader delivered his second speech of the conference.

It amounted to a call to those vital swing voters who have handed Tony Blair a double victory, to trust him and his party with power.

He pulled together all the threads that have run through the week - honesty and trust, action not words, keeping promises, the ten word programme - and added some more of his personal commitment to Britain.

And it went down extremely well. There was the overwhelming impression that the conference representatives were - at the very least - relieved they had a leader who looked the part and could do all this stuff. A pro.

UKIP voters

It did indeed end a conference which started under the shadow of the Hartlepool by-election disaster but gradually saw Tory spirits lifted.

Mr Howard's big speech on Tuesday certainly struck a chord with the representatives, offering a personal and occasionally emotional exposition of the roots of his Conservatism.

He faced criticisms that he had moved to the right, particularly on Europe, in an attempt to woo would-be UKIP voters.

And that is certainly something Labour will use against him in the campaign.

But that was never going to be something to worry representatives at this conference.

What they clearly delighted in was the presentation of a detailed plan of action for the first days and months of a future Tory government.

It gave them something concrete to latch onto and wave on the doorstep.

Performing better

Mr Howard also pitched his campaign squarely on the issue of trust, which has buffeted the government for the past 12 months - and that gave them something to feel virtuous, even superior about.

Party bosses were also boosted by millionaire businessman Paul Sykes' decision to abandon UKIP in the wake of that party's claim it was out to "kill" the Tories.

And it all came against the backdrop of Tony Blair's continuing troubles over Iraq and his leadership.

There are still plenty who point out that, if the Tories are to have any chance of winning the next election, they should be performing far better in the polls.

But party strategists have mapped out a case showing Labour's massive majority is far from unassailable and that they have a real fighting chance of pulling off what would undoubtedly be a major coup at the next election.

Finally, as one senior party boss was prepared to admit, they didn't mess up during the week in Bournemouth. On recent history, that is no small thing.

But did Michael Howard succeed in his conference aim of sending his troops away from Bournemouth into the election battle convinced they really can win?

Or will the clouds quickly gather again once politics returns to normal.




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