TORY LEADERSHIP ELECTION : : LEADING ARTICLES : Lamont `would be seriou s challenger'

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The Independent Online
Calls for a general election, a demand that John Major's critics should accept his challenge and an appeal to Tories to ask themselves who they want to lead them into the next general election are among leader writers' comments today.

The Times says: "No serious critic of party policy should fear to accept the challenge that Mr Major has thrown down. If Cabinet critics are shying from the fray, then an ex-Cabinet critic should take their place." It maintains that if Norman Lamont stands he would guarantee "that the contest became a serious one".

The Daily Telegraph says that "it is strongly in the public interest that at least one alternative candidate should stand against Mr Major" and that the Prime Minister needs to achieve a "convincing victory" if he is to remain a convincing leader of the country. In militaristic language, the paper plainly tells worried Tories that "there is no merit in simply standing saluting until the ship goes down".

The Guardian says the Conservatives have usurped the electorate's right to decide who should govern. "It ought to be our verdict in a general election."

The Sun says Mr Major may have signed his own political suicide note. "Victory is by no means certain," it says. It rules out Hezza (Heseltine) as "not the man for Prime Minister". Questioning John Major's judgement over Europe and other issues, it says: "This time he hopes he has got it right. But don't bet on it."

The Daily Express says that his decision shows "all the qualities of shrewdness and toughness" that friends knew lurked beneath his cautious exterior. It demands that the Tory Party now give him the loyalty that "this brave act of leadership deserves."

The Daily Mail believes the Conservatives face "a defining moment" in their history. It says regardless of John Major's apparent bravery, he cannot be absolved from his "appalling record". It points out that, whoever is leader, "he or she" will need the party's full support.

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