ALTHOUGH it now seems a foregone conclusion that Michael Howard will be the next leader of the Conservative Party, it is hardly surprising that the rumblings of discontent in the constituencies continue. Under the reforms introduced by William Hague party members were for the first time given the final say in the choice of leader. Unfortunately they used this privilege to elect someone who proved to be a dud and consequently the MPs and the party managers at Westminster were determined that if at all possible the members should not be asked for their opinion a second time. This partly explains why there is unlikely to be a challenge to Mr Howard before the closing date for nominations next Thursday. But it does not explain why Mr Howard's name should not be put to the constituencies for endorsement. The spirit of Mr Hague's reform that the all-important grass roots of the party should be directly involved in choice of leader – would seem to require that Mr Howard submits to this confirmation. In the meantime, the first opinion poll since Iain Duncan Smith departed has been published and suggests that voters do not expect his probable successor to transform the party's fortunes. The YouGov poll interviewed 2'000 people on-line on Thursday and Friday and found that 63 per cent thought the change would “not make much difference” to their voting intentions. When asked what effect they thought Mr Howard as leader would make on the Conservative's chances of winning the next election 30 per cent said “improve somewhat” but 35 per cent said, again, “not much difference”. These are early days, but some constituency chairmen will have read these results with more than usual interest.

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