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Last Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Q&A: Tory conference
The annual Conservative conference in Blackpool this week has been described as a "beauty contest" in the race to choose a new leader. How will it work?

What is up for grabs?

Michael Howard is stepping down as leader, with a contest now underway to replace him - this week gives all those planning to stand the perfect opportunity to put their case.

How will a new leader be chosen?

Nominations take place next week. MPs then vote on the different candidates on Tuesday 18 October - the MP with the fewest votes is eliminated. The process is repeated every Tuesday and Thursday until there are just two candidates left. There is then a ballot of the 300,000 Conservative Party members across the country to choose between the two.

So who gets to speak at the conference?

All shadow cabinet ministers, plus a few other senior figures such as Ken Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith, have speaking slots of just under 20 minutes each. That covers all likely candidates plus a few more. Party officials say they will be strict with their stopwatches.

Where else can candidates impress?

Outside of the conference hall Blackpool's finest hotels will be hosting numerous fringe (ie unofficial) debates and meetings. There will also be the usual large number of drinks receptions and dinners. They all provide a perfect opportunity for candidates to put their case across and to win support for their leadership bid. Finally, television and radio stations will be devoting many hours to covering the conference - giving all the candidates the chance to get their views across direct to the public.

Has this sort of "beauty contest" happened before?

In 1963 the race to succeed Harold Macmillan began when he was taken ill on the eve of the conference. In a warning to today's contenders though, many believe more contenders dashed their chances than boosted them.

When are the key speaking slots?

Monday afternoon Tory chairman Francis Maude; shadow culture secretary Theresa May; shadow work and pensions secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind; shadow transport secretary Alan Duncan; ex-leader Iain Duncan Smith.

Tuesday morning: Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley; shadow education secretary David Cameron.

Tuesday afternoon: Shadow trade and industry secretary David Willetts, shadow chancellor George Osborne, former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke, deregulation spokesman John Redwood.

Wednesday morning Local government and communities spokeswoman Caroline Spelman; shadow environment secretary Oliver Letwin; shadow home secretary David Davis.

Wednesday afternoon: Shadow international development secretary Andrew Mitchell; shadow foreign secretary Liam Fox; ex-leader William Hague; shadow defence secretary Michael Ancram; MEPs' leader Timothy Kirkhope.

Thursday morning New MPs Adam Afriyie, Michael Gove, Justine Greening, Ben Wallace; London 2012 Olympics president Lord Coe; party chairman Francis Maude; leader Michael Howard.

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