Howard 'broke pact to stay on'

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Michael Howard reneged on a secret agreement not to quit in the wake of an election defeat, The Independent on Sunday, has learnt. The Tory leader is facing a growing chorus of criticism for opening his party to months of internal strife by announcing he would quit "sooner rather than later".

Michael Howard reneged on a secret agreement not to quit in the wake of an election defeat, The Independent on Sunday, has learnt. The Tory leader is facing a growing chorus of criticism for opening his party to months of internal strife by announcing he would quit "sooner rather than later".

The former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine yesterday called on the Tory leader to stay in the post for up to 18 months.

Lord Saatchi, the party's co-chairman, meanwhile launched an attack on Lynton Crosby, the campaign director brought in by Mr Howard. The party's third successive defeat was due to a "tragedy of communication" he said.

Such backbiting is only likely to further anger rank-and-file members already furious at the return of factionalism.

The Tory leader is expected to meet the party's ruling body later this month at what promises to be a stormy session. It is angry that he has pre-empted the results of an internal review and exposed the Conservatives to months of debilitating squabbles.

Mr Howard's call for a review of the leadership rules is being interpreted as an attempt to undermine David Davis, the favourite to succeed him. Mr Davis is thought to have strong backing among the party's membership but is less popular with his own parliamentary colleagues.

Under current rules, MPs vote on two candidates, who are then presented to the rank-and-file in a national vote. On the only occasion the system has been used, Iain Duncan Smith emerged victorious - a fact that led to pressure for reform.

A secret review of all aspects of the party's constitution has been taking place in recent weeks. But no conclusions have been reached.

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