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Howard shapes the tory future.

Byline: By Bill Peters

Michael Howard was today talking to key Tory figures as his bid for the party leadership gathered momentum.

The shadow chancellor was discussing his plans with MPs and party officials with it looking likely he will be unchallenged for the Conservative Party leadership.

Mr Howard is spending the weekend in his Folkestone and Hythe constituency holding discussions by telephone.

Kenneth Clarke was the last Conservative heavyweight to rule himself out of the running, setting the scene for Mr Howard's unchallenged coronation. But he will still face a ballot of Conservative members to endorse his leadership.

Party rules allow him to get the job without a vote.

He has already said he is keen to give the party's 300,000 members a say.

Grassroots members are angry at the way MPs ousted Iain Duncan Smith, the first leader they had elected. The party's board wants Mr Howard to be seen to have the support of activists.

Mr Clarke announced he would not stand against Mr Howard following talks on Thursday. The Europhile former Chancellor wanted reassurances about the direction Mr Howard intends to take the party. Another possible contender, John Redwood, also ruled himself out.

Mr Clarke welcomed Mr Howard's pledge to lead from the centre.

A challenge by a maverick who wants to give party members a choice cannot be ruled out until nominations close next Thursday.

But Mr Clarke's decision means a challenge is increasingly unlikely.

Attention in Westminster is already focusing on the changes he will make to the shadow cabinet.

Oliver Letwin is tipped for promotion after apparently acting as an emissary between David Davis and Mr Howard.

Bookmakers Ladbrokes are already paying out on bets on Mr Howard securing the leadership.

Meanwhile, Iain Duncan Smith said today he had no regrets about his time as Conservative leader and was now looking forward to his new career as a novelist.

The ousted leader of the Opposition declared he had enjoyed his two years leading the Tories but was now looking forward to the future, which could involve writing some political philosophy as well as fiction.

"I'm a writer now", Mr Duncan Smith professed in an interview to promote his new book, The Devil's Tune, a political thriller he completed in 1997.

Mr Duncan Smith also declared the past two years had toughened him up.

"I'm not physically exhausted. I've enjoyed it," he said. "I've learnt, I've grown. I've no regrets, none whatsoever." He refused to comment about Mr Howard's leadership bid.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 1, 2003
Words:418
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