New leader of Conservative Party

Britain's opposition Conservative Party plans to crown a new leader Tuesday, hoping to reverse its election losing streak and mount a credible challenge to Prime Minister Tony Blair's government. David Cameron, 39, is widely expected to beat David Davis, 56, to become the party's fifth leader since former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher resigned in 1990, a trauma from which the Tories have never fully recovered.

Some 250,000 Conservative members were eligible to choose between Cameron, a young self-proclaimed modernizer, and Davis, a law and order hard-liner promising low taxes.

After three devastating election defeats, the new leader must significantly broaden the party's appeal if it stands a chance of regaining power in national polls expected in 2009. His mettle will be tested on Wednesday, when he faces Blair in the House of Commons for the combative weekly session known as Prime Minister's Questions. It is an opportune moment for the party to choose a new leader.

Blair's personal popularity has slumped since the divisive war in Iraq and his command over the governing Labour Party appears to be waning.

Blair lost a crunch vote in the House of Commons last month over anti-terror legislation, his first defeat since coming to power, and a rebellious band of his own lawmakers are clamoring for him to step down. The new Tory leader will also have ample ammunition to attack Blair in the coming weeks, as the prime minister attempts to secure a deal on the European Union's budget by offering to cut Britain's cherished multimillion pound rebate.

George Osborne, a close ally of Cameron and the party's Treasury spokesman, said Tuesday the Conservatives faced a "long hard slog" to win back power. "Anyone expecting that as of 3 p.m. the entire political landscape will change and we will have a 20-point lead in the polls and are about to walk into government, that is not going to happen," he said. "It is going to take a lot of work constructing a credible alternative to the Labour Party."

The Conservatives dominated 20th century British politics. But since losing power in 1997, the center-right party has grappled for a sense of direction, unsure whether to stick with its traditional low tax, free-market agenda or boost investment in public services as Blair's Labour government has done.

Cameron, a former pupil of the exclusive private school Eton, is regarded as a centrist. He bluntly says the party must modernize and adopt more socially liberal policies. Despite being elected to Parliament only four years ago, his vigor, intellect and vision for the party have impressed members, some of whom compare him to a youthful Blair, reports the AP. N.U.

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