Michael Howard has announced that he will resign as leader of the Conservative Party
Speaking to supporters in Putney he said he considered himself too old to carry on until the next election.
He will remain as party leader until the selection process for choosing a successor has been reviewed.
Following Mr Howard's announcement, Tory frontbenchers Nicholas Soames and Tim Yeo have quit the shadow cabinet in order to broaden the party's appeal beyond its core vote.
Do you think Michael Howard is right to step aside? Who should take over as Tory leader? What will the priorities be for the next leader?
This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion received so far:
In Michael Howard's old cabinet there was only one that seemed not to be pompous and looking to the past. That was Theresa May. Maybe someone with a true understanding of people could lead the Tories?
The Labour party underwent seismic changes during the mid-1980's & 1990's to become electable. The Tories still do not realise they are perceived in an unfavourable light by most of the electorate. Until they get to grips with this, they will at best, only continue to add a few new MPs at election time. You only need to look at their core supporters at the annual conference to appreciate how out of touch with 21st Century Britain they are. A new leader alone will not bring them success.
Steve Buffam, London, UK
The Tories need to split, John Bercow and the Lib Dems within the party should go and join them, leave the right wingers as Tories, then I may come back and vote Tory. We need a party who show the same distrust of big Government as the electorate. Gordon Brown is Old Labour, and once he gets to power then a right wing Tory party will start to climb in the polls. In my experience the Opposition does not win an election, the incumbents lose it, and Labour will do so in the coming months.
Until the Tories can resolve their internal problems over Europe, they will lack credibility. Therefore stick Ken Clarke in there to work that problem out with, say, David Cameron. It would also help to breech the generation gap. Then unleash Clarke on Gordon Brown as the facade of Brown's economic competence crumbles.
Alan Mackay, Montrose, UK
Public confidence in the Tories will once again diminish with Michael Howard stepping down. He was turning the party around as evidenced in this election....now it's back to the starting blocks once again which will initially damage the party image until the new leader can prove themselves in the House and with the electorate. We can only hope that the new leader will be as dedicated as Mr Howard appeared to be with charismatic character, an appeal to younger voters, and one that can hold Blair to account in Question Time.
Richard, Chesterfield UK
It wouldn't have mattered who the Titanic's captain was - while it was steering that course it would still have hit the iceberg. Until the Tories decide what they stand for and offer Britain a clear vision they are sunk.
Sian Evans, Cardiff
The Tories must not at any cost choose a new leader associated with the Thatcher of least of all the major era. Rifkind may be only a year older than David Davies, but he looks and sounds like a man of another generation. Davies is the only feasible candidate with the broad appeal needed to attract floating voters and the party would be mad to choose anyone else.
Sara Waterson, Sudbury, Suffolk
Boris Johnson? William Hague? John Redwood? Who are they? The three stooges? Tony Blair would knock them down just like he's knocked down the rest of the Tory leaders. Come to think of it, he's already hammered William Hague once! Bring back Maggie, she's man enough for the job!
John Hindley, Leigh, Lancs
Bring bank Ian Duncan Smith and let's have one more heave. He can take us over the finishing line.
A new leader is meaningless without a new approach. The most disappointing part of the Tory general election strategy was their failure to take the government on over the economy that is now beginning to flat-line due to over-taxation, over-regulation and government over-spending. The Tory cause should be a call for small government, decentralisation, support for small business and the encouragement of saving by private individuals.
Nigel Wilson, Buckingham UK
There is only one man to lead the Conservative Party, he is David Davis. The next leader needs to sort out the deadwood from the front bench once and for all and put in a team for the future. David Davis has to be leader otherwise we can look forward in disgust at another labour win with increased liberal support. David Davis as leader, Hague, Cameron, Osborne, Fox, Clarke on the front bench united.
Karl M Mitford, Newcastle, England
It's interesting that the policies the Tories touted during their election campaign have been quickly set aside as their preoccupation with their internal leadership contest has taken over. Not one Tory interviewee has reminded us what these policies were and pledged to fight for them in the new parliament - what a shallow sham their campaign was!
Graham Allan, Paisley
The new leader has to have charisma and be able to pack a punch especially in Commons debates. People on the street should also be able to recognise them and their names. This matters far more than ideological purity so it's got to be either Ken Clarke or Malcolm Rifkind.
Andy Gibbons, Coventry, UK
I'm not a Conservative voter but several months back I saw David Cameron on Question Time and he was clear, eloquent, intelligent, measured and made Tory policy seem relevant at the height of it's antiquity under Howard. Imagine what he could do if elected leader? More young people like myself would start paying attention.
Paul, Glasgow, UK
The Conservative Party must re-launch itself with new blood such as Liam Fox, David Cameron or George Osbourne - the problem with Michael Howard was that he had a Thatcher cabinet record. We need someone with charisma not history.
Jaqui Bell, Dorchester, Dorset
The Tories need to choose someone along the lines of Ken Clarke. They have to realise that since Labour have usurped the centre ground, they are never going to get back into power on a Thatcherite right-of-centre agenda. While it may not chime with the blue-rinse set, the average British voter wants moderation and tolerance from their leaders. "Clear blue water", daft immigration policies, massive public sector cuts etc under another right wing leader will only leave them stranded in the wilderness.
If they want to regain the housewives vote, there's only one choice - Liam Fox.
The Tories need to reinvent themselves, that's why I didn't vote for them in 2005. Although an unlikely candidate, I think they need another woman to sort themselves out once and for all. I think that woman is Theresa May.
The Tory party will have to do what Kinnock, Smith, Blair, Brown did for the New Labour Party i.e. bring the party up to date. Without such a move the Tory Party run the risk of disappearing permanently
Tony Gorman, Teddington U.K.
Bring on Boris Johnson to lead the Conservatives and the amount of votes for the Tories will rise considerably
Alex R, Reading, UK
I can't believe all the people on here who think that Thatcherism is dead and unpopular. On the contrary Tony Blair has used Thatcherism to win three elections, and that's the problem. New Labour stole the Tory's most prized assets (their right wing policies) and used them himself very successfully. As a result the Conservatives are stuck and need to re-invent themselves.
Get William Hague back, if the Conservatives had given him a fairer chance, we would have a Conservative Government now and got Britain back into good shape and said goodbye to Blair.
Steve Fletcher, Mansfield Notts
Clark, Patten, Fox, even Portillo after a by-election - anyone decisive enough to end party infighting, and charismatic enough to inspire MPs, party members and the public at large will do perfectly well. With that, how difficult can it be to beat the dour uninspiring Gordon Brown, whose Old Labour inclinations will no longer have Tony Blair to temper it.
For nearly 30 years I voted Tory - but they lost my vote due to all the sleaze and arrogance under Thatcher. Admittedly that was some time ago now, but I will never again vote for them while the 'old guard' are still hanging around. The Tory party has self destructed and I honestly think it will never rise again - least ways not till every single person who was around with Thatcher has gone for good.
The Conservatives biggest problem is that they are essentially the same party that Mrs. Thatcher created. Howard was a uniting and dynamic leader after a series of weak and virtually unknown leaders, but he is still a Thatcher's man. Someone needs to change the party if it is ever to have mass appeal again. The Labour Party faced the same situation and went through painful change. When I look at the current Tories they still reflect the Sloane Ranger and huntin', shootin' and fishin chaps. Doesn't appeal to me at all!
Maureen Sinclair, Crawley, England
I think Michael Howard was right to step aside, but I wish he'd waited a few months before making the announcement. The conservative party needs to take a good look at itself before electing a new leader. They still appeal to their loyal supporters, but they need to win back the voters who defected to New Labour and they're not going to do that as long as they keep churning out leader after leader from behind Mrs Thatcher's skirts. Choose someone young and dynamic. Choose someone with a personality. Choose someone who can rejuvenate the party and give people the confidence that the conservatives can run Britain without taking us back to the Thatcher years.
It must be Ken Clarke! The Tory party have had so many opportunities to elect him yet he is snubbed every time. I think he would appeal to a much wider majority of the electorate and lead the Tories back into government.
Oliver Mulkeen, Wetherby, UK
The Conservatives need fresh young blood. David Cameron as leader and George Osborne as Shadow Chancellor would make a brilliant team. Very similar to that of a young Blair & Brown.
Jay Patel, London, UK
Michael Howard is so sensible to step down now. He knows he has done a good job in the Election, and very sensibly knows when its time to quit. Such a shame such a decent and well-balanced bloke never got the chance to run the country.
Alistair Laing, Inverbervie, UK
If the Tories have any ounce of intelligence, they will elect Oliver Letwin. This guy is easily the most able of all the possible candidates, maybe with the exception of Ken Clarke (who they'll never have as leader). He is very much of the Blair mould - charismatic, warm, apparently honest. Women will love him, basically.
Michael Howard said he wanted to make the hospitals cleaner. Now he will have all the time he needs to see to it personally. Give than man a broom, a mop, and a bucket.
It is obvious that the Tories need a younger, more dynamic person to lead them if they are ever to regain power. This person should not be tainted by any connection with the Thatcher years and should be trusted more than Mr Howard. So, if the "bleeding-hearts" in Labour and the media foolishly get rid of Mr Blair, the Tories should make him an offer.
As Portillo can't run because he's not an MP I suggest that they choose a waxwork of Margaret Thatcher as their next leader - it'll do a far better job than Howard, Duncan-Smith or the 'other guy'. Why oh why do people still bother to vote for such an outdated party.
Tom Swade, Szczecin, Poland
It doesn't matter who the Conservatives elect as their new leader because he will be dogged by the Thatcher legacy and the unelectable tag foisted on them by New Labour. Phil
p Dass, Walthamstow
There is one man who would frighten the life out of New Labour, and that man is Ken Clarke. He is the left wing of the Tory party, and would appeal to the public, but I fear he is too left-wing and too pro-European for the Tory Party itself.
Chris Patten has the charisma and talent for the top job. Let him lead the Tories to victory in the next elections , before he gets old.
Safi, Hong Kong
There are some really ignorant commentators on here. For instance 'The Conservatives need to stop choosing public school snobs, Labour showed that the country can be run by down to earth people'. Well Paul from Preston, Tony Blair was educated at one of the most exclusive boarding schools in Scotland whilst Michael Howard attended a state grammar and William Hague went to a comprehensive. Facts please, not conjecture. Either way, David Davis for leader.
Charming, charismatic, witty, a brilliant speaker and a born leader. A man with mass appeal. There's only one man, Michael Portillo. Pity that he's not an MP any more so I guess that rules him out. Shame.
Tony Blair played a master-stroke when he offered Chris Patten a position on the European Commission on his return to the UK at the end of his term as governor of Hong Kong. He would have been an ideal party leader.
Bill, Settle, UK
I think that the people need to be convinced that the Tory party would not return to the same policies as we had in the Thatcher years. People are still scared of a return to those times. It doesn't really matter who leads the party as long as they can prove to the country that Thatcherism is dead.
Philip, Wigan, England
The next Tory leader needs to appeal not only to party members, but to the general public. This party can only win if they have policies which are in tune with the public mood, not a relic of the past. Boris Johnson is your man.
From my view outside the Conservative Party, there is only one candidate for this job, and that is Michael Portillo. A shame he's decided to step down from Westminster. However, the Tories had their chance to elect him as leader back in 1997, and they chose William Hague instead - that tells you everything you need to know about the type of people who elect Tory leaders. Expect another vaguely right-wing, vaguely middle-aged, vague type of person.
Andy Hutchcraft, Peterborough, UK
I think Ken Clarke with Boris Johnson as his deputy "in training" to step in to lead the Tories at the next election. We need Ken Clarke for his wisdom and charisma and Boris for his charisma and youth.
Chris Topliss, Yuzhno Sakhalinsk, Russia
Anyone but Ken Clarke, he's far too pro-European.
LJS, Stockport, UK
For me to vote Tories they'll need someone fresh to lead the party, someone with new ideas but put across with conviction. The problem with the current Tory setup is that they are far too stuffy. Just look at the tactics Labour used pre-1997 to see how complete transformations can work.
Michael Portillo. He should be elected as leader but only take office when he wins a seat at the next election. He could then concentrate on winning up to the election without having to bother with parliament.
I would like to see Ken Clarke finally become leader of the Tory party. There is no pretence with him - what you see is what you get - and I think for that reason he has a great sense of likeability. He would also bring to the job a wealth of experience, and a reputation as a Chancellor who provided the framework for the economic success that we now enjoy. He is a great debater and would provide very effective opposition to the Labour government.
Jeremy Campbell, Edinburgh
Despite his age, Ken Clarke is the most popular Conservative MP. He is charismatic, straight talking, to the left wing of the party and would present the electorate with a clear alternative. What's more, he is genuinely liked by voters of all parties. If he had won leadership of the Tory party years ago, I don't believe that Tony Blair would have achieved his 3rd term.
Without doubt - Kenneth Clarke, a fantastic chancellor and pro European - its hard for many Conservatives to admit, but they are a natural pro European party and many votes especially in the business sector have been haemorrhaged with their Euro sceptic, xenophobic, little Englander tilt trying to gain the popular vote. Britain needs to be at the heart of Europe, not seen as always winging on the sidelines.
Need fresh faces and friendlier corporate look and language. George Osborne and David Cameron would make us look fresh and ready government.
This election has proved that in its present form the Conservative party is dying. We need a dynamic, young gun who can kick his way into Number 10, trouncing Labour at its every move and charm his way to gain new supporters. Gordon Brown is not going to want to give up his premiership but he a bore and hopefully the country will be fed up in 2010. The Building of a government in waiting starts now. One of the rising stars who shouldn't be afraid to stand is Andrew Lansley.
Mike Poulton, Guildford
There is no future for the Conservatives while they continue to choose only public school snobs as their candidates. Labour has shown that real down to earth people can successfully run the country. The days when the average man in the street is prepared to be governed by posh old Tories are gone. Look back at history, nobody wants to be ruled by a self-proclaimed elite class, and that's exactly how the Conservatives come across.
Paul B, Preston, UK
I am assuming Paul B from Preston is joking when he writes that Tory leaders are public school snobs, no Tory leader since Anthony Eden has been to a public school unlike the current Prime Minister and many of his friends like Peter Bradley and Shaun Woodward!
I would say that Kenneth Clark might have done much better both in 2001 and 2005 than Mr. Howard but the party seems determined not to elect strategically (in the same way that Labour's election of Mr Blair was strategic) to win. If the Tory party was honest with itself it would split into separate units - if it cannot compromise internally and it does not split then it is doomed to also-ran status for another 10 years. Most of their core ardent supporters are of the blue-rinse variety and in order to survive the next 25 years they need to start to appeal to a membership at least from the generation below.
David, Winchester, UK
It has to be David Cameron. He can create a new Conservative Party. Along the lines of new Labour but without the spin, accountability for actions and some decent policies. They will also need to sort out the economy after everything that creates money will have been swallowed by taxes and everybody will be working for the government in some form or other. He will hopefully go forward as the new PM at the next election for many years. Conservatives must not allow Labour into power again but somehow I think that Labour will come unstuck before the next election. The economy will be a major factor as will Iraq.
Conservatives should continue to do what Howard has begun - at last the Conservatives have credibility again, they should get on with selecting a new and younger leader without delay, one that is not too pro Europe and who will oust Blair and New Labour before they can do any more damage.
Rod Moulton, Painswick,
Boris all the way, you just have to look at Henley to see he is doing something right. Furthermore, the Conservatives need a cuddly-teddy-bear style leader, as I think it would aid the appearance of the party. From a Labour supporter.
Henry Taysom, UK
Alan Duncan - he's the steady man with grit and determination - and all his skeletons are already out of the closet. He's the one. He has flair and imagination and is extremely intelligent.
G Mamos, Melton Mowbray, UK
It doesn't make any difference who leads the Tories. They are dinosaurs; they offer nothing new, only bad memories of high unemployment, boom and bust. They only look after the rich, they'll never change. Thank goodness we still have a Labour government.
Neil, Bournemouth, UK
I think all Tory voters, whatever they may think of Michael Howard or the campaign he fought, should be eternally grateful that he rid the party of all the infighting. Not sure who's best to take over though, probably David Davis or maybe Liam Fox but I would like to see more young blood in the party.
Tony Nuttall, Manchester
Although the country has fallen out of love with Tony Blair, two large victories have shown that the country responds to young, dynamic personalities. The Tories need to look for a new, fresh personality (preferably with a full head of hair) if they seriously want to return to government.
Steve Ivie, Bracknell, Berks
The Conservatives should elect a woman as their next leader; this would unquestionably increase their chances of winning the next election for a number of reasons. Firstly, a large percentage of the female population, especially the young, would vote for her purely because she is a woman. Secondly, the high water mark of Conservatism was under Thatcher. Therefore, subconsciously, people would associate a female leader as an indicator of a strong Conservative party.
Garry, Oxton, UK
They need someone with hair.
Henry George, Tokyo, Japan
Now is the time for Boris Johnson to come into his own. He's the most well-known of all Tories, he says what he thinks, and he's amusing. Plus, he'll screw up badly leaving the Tories in such a bad position that they'll get nowhere in future elections.
James Kendall, Swindon
For the first time I have felt unable to vote Tory. The party is too far to the right on issues such as immigration, and too far left on tax and spending.
Tony, Leyland, Lancashire
Lets have John Redwood as Conservative leader and ensure another Labour victory next time round.
Martin Brooks, Shoreham-By-Sea
Liam Fox has come across well during the campaign, and doesn't appear to have any unwelcome baggage.
Britain needs a Tory leader who will fight tirelessly for everyone. We need an opposition leader who will bring a refreshing sense of trust back into politics, and will fight Blair's culture of spin head-on. The only person I think is tough enough for this challenge is Ann Widdecombe.
Stephen Paine, Selwyn College, Cambridge
Unless the Conservative Party is prepared to elect someone like Ken Clarke or Liam Fox, I think Michael Howard should not resign.
Marc Hole, Somerset
They need someone younger who is a natural leader. They are not exactly spoilt for choice. David Davies will probably win due to a lack of any other half-decent candidates
David, Cirencester, Gloucestershire
The Tories need a leader with intelligence and ideas. In this personality-driven age, they also need someone with charisma and a high public profile. Boris Johnson has all these attributes and then some. He is clearly the best choice for leader.
Jamie, London, UK
It's finally time for Ken Clarke.
Bob Smith, Glasgow
While he is not an MP, Chris Patten would a great leader. See what he did with Hong Kong. It is time for a real statesman, to win the next election and not be plagued with the current lies, spin from both parties. The Tories need a fresh face to beat Tony Blair and send Gordon back to Scotland to answer to people he's let down.
Stephen, Bognor, UK
If the Tories field another ageing, grey-haired, suited non-personality to lead them I will scream. Labour was always going to win, but if the Tories don't start waking up to the fact that the majority of them seem to live in on another planet, Labour will get in again next term as well. Come on, Labour doesn't like Tony Blair, but they know that because he looks and behaves like a person and not a politician, people are warmer to him. Why don't the Tories get it?
Hollie Boughton, Kent, UK
I echo the words of the Conservative leader, if this can be achieved in 18 months, what can be achieved over the next 4 or 5 years? No one believed that Labour would lose this general election but the Conservative party have built them sufficient foundations to elevate them into government after the next election With the possibility now of a new young vibrant leader building on the steps forward made by Mr. Howard the future is bright the future is Conservative.
David Hewitt, Penrith, Cumbria
Ken Clarke. He may be from the old guard but they know how to debate and oppose which is what the Tories lack at the moment. That and clear policies.
Howard did better than I expected but was always seen as an interim leader. The Tories have few likely leaders among a poor bunch of second hand car dealers and failed business people. They need a real leader with vision and guts, such a pity they will not get one.
Martin Husbands, Monmouth, Wales
The fate of the next election seems to have been sealed before the current one is finished. I do appreciate what Michael Howard is saying and it is logical what he is doing. The problem is that they have no one with any stature . When they have tried someone without a track record like William Hague it was a disaster. However after his experiences on "Have I got News for You" he may do very well. There is always Boris, he would be a great laugh, but a PM?
Chris Parker, Bucks
People want politicians with charisma, this should be the main priority for the Conservatives when choosing their next leader.
Richard, London, UK
The party needs to find a young leader, one with charisma and one who appeals to the electorate and not just the party faithful. There is one clear candidate - David Cameron. To members of the Conservative party: Please, please, please do not choose the wrong leader and condemn us to 5 years of Gordon Brown from 2009.
James Whistler, Cirencester, UK