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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 October 2005, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Fox keeps himself in the hunt
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Liam Fox
Dr Fox focused on national pride
You can never go far wrong at a Conservative conference by wrapping yourself in the Union Jack.

And right-wing contender Liam Fox did not hesitate as he attempted to seize his moment of opportunity and give his leadership bid a major boost.

It was an opportunity because, just hours before, the other man from the right, David Davis, had, in the eyes of many representatives here, notably failed to deliver.

And it will have boosted Dr Fox's hopes because this conference audience loved every second of it and it is they, and their grassroots colleagues, who will have the final say in this contest.

Tory MPs will have to select two candidates to put before the 300,000 members - but they will be risking a serious backlash if they fail to take account of the reception the contenders get in Blackpool.

So Dr Fox went for it.


He talked of pulling out of the European People's Party in Brussels, attacked the "crazed politically correct brigade" who told him flying the Union flag outside schools was racist, and he beat his chest with pride at the party's past record.

Mr Davis may well have slipped back while both Mr Cameron and Mr Clarke have given their campaigns significant new impetus

"We need to re-establish pride in what it means to be British. Pride in our national identity.

"We have spent so long focusing on diversity that we have forgotten to focus on what we have in common," he declared.

And it worked.

Where Mr Davis' performance had earlier been greeted with disappointment, even by some of his own supporters, Dr Fox's was welcomed with enthusiasm.

He did not win everyone over, but even delegates who will be supporting others when the time comes seemed to find his uncompromising approach refreshing.


Then there were the attacks on the other candidates - the most withering on Mr Davis who has made such play of his humble, council estate background.

"My father was a teacher, my mother was a housewife, my grandfathers were both miners, I went to the local comprehensive, I trained in medicine and worked in the NHS as a hospital doctor and a GP.

"None of these, none of these are reasons for me to become leader of the Conservative party," he said.

Leading moderniser David Cameron, whose freestyle conference speech has given great heart to his backers, and old war-horse Ken Clarke, who delivered a barnstorming performance, didn't escape his attention either - albeit in carefully-coded passages.


Talk of trashing the party's past and obsessing over Europe will have hit their targets.

He even mentioned Iraq, an issue the other contenders have avoided.

But he knows his likely supporters will come from the Davis camp.

So, with the last leadership speech delivered, the bookies - and, more crucially, Tory MPs - have had to start re-considering their odds.

Dr Fox may still be trailing the top three of Clarke, Cameron and Davis, but his performance will have done him no harm at all.

Mr Davis may well have slipped back while both Mr Cameron and Mr Clarke have given their campaigns significant new impetus.

As the conference started drawing to a close, it appeared earlier certainties had been undermined and most representatives and MPs in Blackpool accepted it was now wide open and unpredictable.

Now it is over to the 198 Tory MPs in the Commons who, assuming no new candidates emerge by next close of nominations next Thursday, will start the process of whittling down the current five to just two.


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