Howard attacks Tory frenzy for new direction

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Michael Howard yesterday delivered an apparent attack on Kenneth Clarke, the current favourite for next month's Conservative leadership contest.

The former Chancellor said in his first speech of the campaign on Wednesday that the Tories needed a Blair-style overhaul under which party reform became "the instrument for the widest possible participation in a new Conservatism".

But Mr Howard told a Conservative Bow Group meeting in London yesterday that there was a worrying trend in British politics - "an almost frenzied obsession with novelty".

He added: "New Labour, new faces, new policies, new structures... new Tory? Taken to that conclusion, only one thing is certain; new Disaster. Because the analysis is wrong."

The former Home Secretary said Labour's remodelling had worked because a left-wing party had been dressed up as right-wing. It had worked because the substitute for an extremely unpopular Conservative Party appeared to be almost as Conservative as the Conservatives. "Ever since, the media pundits have been telling us that the only way back for the Conservatives is to ape Labour."

Mr Howard dismissed that, just as he dismissed another statement made by Mr Clarke on Wednesday: "The Conservative Party is a party of power, or it is nothing."

Mr Howard said yesterday: "We have to win power, but power is not the end either. The end is the good government of Britain. And if we ever forget that - as we were, I believe unfairly, thought to have done recently - we will never hold office again."

The campaign began to move yesterday, with Michael Ancram - mistakenly identified by The Independent as a supporter of Mr Clarke - coming out with an endorsement for William Hague. A member of Mr Hague's team said that the former Northern Ireland minister was just what they wanted - a senior figure who was going further, rather than an old hand who was on his way out. That was thought to be a reference to Michael Heseltine's expected endorsement of Mr Clarke.

John Redwood, another contender, yesterday used the visit of President Bill Clinton to underline his own brand of Euro-scepticism, saying that the American alliance was essential. But he added a warning for the President: "Do not think you can put a single number in your book for Europe. I know I can't put a single number in my book for America. I need one for Ontario and Mexico City. You need one for London, Berlin and for Paris."

Mr Redwood said that Britain's role was to provide a voice of commonsense in Europe. "Not to disengage, but not to accept dictation. We must not turn our backs on our continent, but we must not let them turn their backs on the rest of the world."