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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 July, 2005, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Tory hopefuls get pitch platform
Michael Howard
Mr Howard will stand down before Christmas
All Conservative leadership hopefuls are being promised an equal chance to make their pitch for the job at the party's autumn conference.

The conference plans allocate platform speaking slots - possibly of less than 20 minutes - to all leading Tories.

Tory chairman Francis Maude said interest in the leadership race could be combined with wider debate on the way forward for the party.

The details come after MPs voted to have the final say on the new leader.

'Shambles'

Ordinary party members would only be consulted under the new system, which MPs backed by 127 votes to 50.

Currently, MPs select two candidates and ordinary party members vote on them. The new proposals have sparked some protests.

One man or woman alone will not win us the next election
Francis Maude
Conservative chairman

Frontbencher Theresa May said the change sent the message that Tory members were not trusted.

And John Strafford, from the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, claimed it would create a shambles.

He asked: "What happens if it goes out to consultation and that produces one leader and then the MPs vote for another one?"

Collision course?

Support for the new leadership rules will be tested at a vote of local party chairman and other party figures in September, where it must secure a two-thirds majority.

The new leader is likely to be in place by mid-November.

Potential leadership contender David Davis said giving MPs the final say meant the new leader would have support from the majority of his parliamentary colleagues.

Nominations for the leadership are likely to open the week after the party's autumn conference.

That will avoid the conference becoming a fully-fledged hustings, said Mr Maude, although he expected some candidates to have declared they were standing in the contest.

Facing reality

Mr Maude told reporters on Thursday the conference could engage the entire party and be a "showcase" for how the Tories were facing up to the "realities of life in Britain today".

There would also be the chance to get advice from private and voluntary organisations.

He said the party had to work collectively to show its values and ideals rather than just focus on the leadership question.

"One man or woman alone will not win us the next election," he said.

But the leadership race has forced a shake-up in the way platform speeches are organised.

All of the shadow cabinet will be given equal speaking slots in debates on one of five themes.

The themes are: helping people through their lives; building the public services "we deserve"; making all Britons better off; improving the places we live and playing our full role on the world stage.

Shadow ministers will not have to stick to their briefs.

'No feuds'

Ken Clarke, the only likely contender from outside the shadow cabinet, will also get the chance to speak from the platform.

Mr Clarke, as well as former leaders William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, will speak as members of leader Michael Howard's "advisory council".

Mr Maude denied the conference would be dominated by "back-stabbing" in the leadership race.

But he said: "There is no point in disguising the fact people are going to be extremely interested in how people who may become contenders for the leadership address the great debate.

"We have got the best of both worlds where the contenders can talk and set out their vision and values but nonetheless in order to do that they have to engage in the broad debate that Michael launched."

Other potential leadership candidates include David Cameron, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Liam Fox and Andrew Lansley.



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