Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Balancing Act from Howard as He Builds His Shadow Cabinet

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Balancing Act from Howard as He Builds His Shadow Cabinet

Article excerpt


MICHAEL HOWARD today set about naming his shadow cabinet - with no sign that his new Tory reign has helped woo the voters.

The procession to Mr Howard's office at the Commons began at 9am.

A trio of Tory moderates, Oliver Letwin, Francis Maude and Stephen Dorrell, were high on the list for promotion. But Mr Howard's first appointments - joint party chairmen - were from the Right and the Thatcher era.

In a sign of a big shake-up for the party's "rusty" machine, the post will for the first time be shared between MP Liam Fox and the advertising tycoon Lord Saatchi.

Mr Fox, formerly shadow health secretary, ran Mr Howard's flawless and triumphant leadership campaign.

Lord Saatchi, seen at Westminster as a highly effective operator, was one of Margaret Thatcher's most trusted allies at the height of her rule.

The choice handed fresh ammunition to Labour, already charging that the new opposition leader was a throwback to the Eighties. But Mr Howard was set to balance his choices in line with his pledge to lead the party from the centre.

The latest opinion poll, by Populus in today's Times, was a disappointment for Tories hoping for an immediate bounce as a result of the change of leader. It showed Labour still leading by 36per cent to 31, unchanged from last month, with the Liberal Democrats at 25per cent. An ICM poll in yesterday's News of the World put the Tory ratings down two points since last month to 31per cent, with Labour eight points ahead.

There was better news for Mr Howard as big Tory donors lined up to promise funds after a near-strike towards the end of Iain Duncan Smith's troubled two-year leadership.

The party's former treasurer Lord Ashcroft met the new leader to offer [pounds sterling]2 million to fight 150 key marginal seats.

That money could help save Mr Howard's own political skin at the next election at his Folkestone and Hythe constituency where a fairly narrow majority has been targeted by the Liberal Democrats. …

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