Howard is a figure of the past, says Campbell

Alastair Campbell returned to the political fray yesterday when he branded Michael Howard "a figure of the past" and said he would have to radically modernise the Conservative Party to succeed.

In his first British television interview since leaving Downing Street in September, Mr Campbell admitted that Mr Howard would be a better leader than his predecessor, Iain Duncan Smith, and predicted he would revive his party's fortunes.

He told the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme: "He is a figure of the past, he's from that era when the Conservative party, frankly, became obsessed about Europe, almost to the exclusion of everything else. He's totally identified with the poll tax."

The former Downing Street communications director said the country would not listen to Mr Howard unless he faced up to the need for fundamental change and modernisation of his party. "They've got to do more than Howard has yet indicated he intends to do."

Writing in The Sunday Times, Mr Campbell suggested Mr Howard's equivalent of Tony Blair scrapping of Clause 4 could be turning the Tories into a "commonsense, centrist party on Europe". Failing that, he should offer "Thatcherism plus'' - big tax cuts and privatising health, education and social services. But Mr Campbell's unsolicited advice was laughed off by allies of Mr Howard, who said they knew "where he is coming from".

¿ Alan Milburn, a former health secretary, will propose today that Labour commit itself in a third term to close the "assets gap" between rich and poor by raising home ownership levels from 68 per cent to 84 per cent, the figure in Spain, the highest in Europe.

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