by RAY FLEMING
WHILE Britain's Labour Party luxuriates in the feeling that it will in effect have two leaders for the next three or four years, the Conservatives are doomed to more months without an active leader. Yesterday's rejection by the party's electoral college of Michael Howard's proposed reform in electing a leader means that his successor will not be in place until December at the earliest and that the involvement of the constituency parties might mean that the process will drag on into the New Year. William Hague changed the rules to enable the constituencies to have a voice in the election of the party's leader. The first test of the new arrangement led to the brief incumbency of Iain Duncan Smith; when he resigned under pressure Mr Howard was chosen by consulation rather than election because of the urgency of having a leader in place for the run-up to the geneal election. When he decided to resign following the election defeat he proposed that choice of the leader should revert to the long-established pre-Hague system by which sitting MPs indicated the person they preferred. This was the change rejected yesterday. There are arguments to be made for both approaches. Constituency members do a lot of the party's unglamorous work, especially at election times, and they have a claim to be consulted about who should lead the party. On the other hand, Members of Parliament are in the front line of the political battle at Westminster and they want someone they respect and trust as their leader. Although the House of Commons is not as important as it once was, there is little doubt that a weak party leader can be shown up in its debates and, as a result, lose support at an election. Kenneth Clarke was rejected by the constituencies in favour of Mr Smith, mainly because of his pro-European views, but he is now thought to be their preferred candidate perhaps because it is now recognised that one of the most urgent parliamentary tasks is to deflate the overblown confidence of Mr Blair and/or Mr Brown and that Mr Clarke is the man most likely to be able to do it.