Stricter abortion law call by Howard

Tory conference: Leader adopts US-style campaign tactics and becomes first British politician to parade his family on platform
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Indy Politics

Michael Howard has played the family card by calling for stricter abortion laws, and by putting his wife and children on display at the Conservative spring conference.

Michael Howard has played the family card by calling for stricter abortion laws, and by putting his wife and children on display at the Conservative spring conference.

In an interview with Cosmopolitan magazine, which will be published tomorrow, Mr Howard complains that abortions are now effectively available "on demand" and pledges to vote to cut the legal limit for late abortions to 20 weeks.

In the same magazine, Tony Blair says that he "personally dislikes the idea of abortion" but has no plans to change the present law, which outlaws abortions after 24 weeks except where the foetus is seriously handicapped or there is a risk to the mother's life.

Yesterday Mr Howard also took the unprecedented step of pushing his family into the limelight, inviting the public to vote for him because he has a talented wife and children.

His "meet the family" display will be seen as another case of US style politics being imported to Britain.

The Tory leader's adult son and daughter, Nick and Larissa and step-son Sholto Douglas-Home paid tribute to Mr Howard at the party's spring conference in Brighton. In his speech, Mr Howard also promoted his wife, Sandra, as another election asset.

The Tory leader claimed Labour's attacks on him were proof that the party's campaign is beginning to bite. Yesterday, the Commons Leader Peter Hain described Mr Howard as an "attack mongrel".

The use of such stark language has alarmed members of the Labour Party who fear that it will rebound against them. Labour MP Jim Cousins said yesterday: "I am absolutely disgusted by the description of anyone as a 'mongrel'. It's completely outside the terms of reference we should have in British politics or how British people should refer to each other."

It is the first time that the leader of a major British political party has paraded his children at a political rally in this way. In his speech,

Mr Howard took the unprecedented step of referring to his wife's charitable work as a trustee of the drugs charity Addaction. He said: "Sandra has dedicated herself to support the fight against addiction."

Mr Howard also contrasted his own boyhood as a grammar school pupil with Mr Blair's public school background ­ without mentioning that he sent his son, Nick, to Eton, whilst the Blair children went to state schools.

Addressing Labour's attacks he said: "Since the beginning of this year ­ election year ­ we've been making the political weather. Something tells me that someone, somewhere out there, is just a little bit rattled."

But Labour strategists believe the Tory leader is now vulnerable to the charge that he is a political opportunist who will do anything for the sake of short-term tactical advantage. Their polling suggests that the campaign to highlight the case of Margaret Dixon, whose NHS operation was repeatedly delayed, has rebounded on the Tories.

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