Here is the full text of Michael Howard's speech following the Labour Party's victory, in which he announced plans to stand down as Conservative Party leader, before the next general election.
Michael Howard announces plans to stand down as Tory leader
It is exactly 18 months to the day since I was elected leader of the
It was the 6th November 2003 and I came here to Putney on that day to a
constituency I said we had to win, and last night we did win thanks to the effort of Justine and her fantastic team.
Of course I am very sad we didn't do better, sad for our many candidates who came within a whisker of victory, sad for all our supporters who worked so hard, and sad for the millions of voters who put their trust in us.
But today the Conservative Party can hold its head up high. We have begun the process of rebuilding our party, a broad outward looking party that reflects Britain in the 21st century.
We have now got our first black member of parliament, Adam Afriyie, and what a great campaign he fought.
We have got a British Asian MP, Shailesh Vara, and what a good campaign he fought.
And we have got some fantastic new women MPs, Justine is not alone.
I am enormously proud that during this election campaign we were the only political party to take a stand on the issues that matter to the British people.
To stand up for the forgotten majority to put forward a positive agenda for a brighter, better Britain.
We have taken a huge step forward and I want to thank everyone for the
fantastic support, the unstinting support they have given me in the last 18 months, my colleagues in the shadow cabinet, my colleagues in the parliamentary party and the voluntary members of our party who worked so hard night and day for party in that time.
We have taken a huge step forward but there's much, much more to be done. We have got to keep listening, we have got to keep learning.
We have got to work hard, not just nationally but locally, to rebuild our party at the grass roots and we have got to keep on standing up for the forgotten majority of our country, the people who work hard, who pay their dues, who play by the rules and who help themselves.
I would like to congratulate Mr Blair again for his third election victory I sincerely hope he will listen to the British people, that he is done with all the talk and that he really will now deliver a brighter, better Britain that we all want to see.
And if he does deliver on people's priorities, on school discipline, on cleaner hospitals and more police, on controlled immigration and on value for money, he will have the Conservative Party's support.
Now as many of you know as I have mentioned more than once on this campaign, I am 63 years old.
At the time of the next election in four or five years time I will by 67 or 68 and I believe that's simply too old to lead a party into government.
So as I can't fight the next election as leader of our party I believe its better to stand aside sooner rather than later so the party can choose someone who can.
I want to avoid the uncertainty of prolonged debate about the leadership of the party. I want the next Conservative leader to have much more time than I had to prepare our party for Government.
If we have achieved this much in just 18 months imagine what we can achieve in the next four or five years.
I have said many times since I became leader, during this election campaign that accountability matters. I have said that if people don't deliver they go and for me delivering meant winning the election.
I didn't do that. I didn't do that despite my best efforts.
And I want to do now what is best for my party and above all for my
Need for unity
It is widely known that there is a good deal of dissatisfaction with the existing rules for choosing the leader of the party so I intend to stay as leader until the party has had the opportunity to consider whether it wishes those rules to be changed and if so how they should be changed.
When that process is complete I shall resign as leader.
Ours is a great party. It is the longest standing party in the history of democracy. Few other parties have achieved so much, done so much as ours.
We are the party's trustees. At its best it is a party that is broad and
generous, broad in its appeal, generous in its outlook.
A party capable of representing all of Britain and all Britons and we need to remain true to our values, rewarding people who do the right thing, who play by the rules, who look after their families, who teach their children to respect others.
We need to remain united, never to return to the bickering and back-stabbing of the past and we need to remain positive and outward looking.
Everything I have and everything I am I owe to this great country of ours.
I did not achieve what I set out to achieve but I hope over the past 18 months I have at least given something back not just to my party but to my country, a voice for the forgotten majority, a voice for common sense and above all a credible opposition that can hold this government to account.