Duncan Smith lives on borrowed time

TONY Blair's government is looking increasingly shambolic and appears to be stuttering from one crisis to another.Six years after coming to power it seems to have run out of ideas and lost its connection with the great will of the public that swept it into office.

TONY Blair's government is looking increasingly shambolic and appears to be stuttering from one crisis to another.

Six years after coming to power it seems to have run out of ideas and lost its connection with the great will of the public that swept it into office.

So shouldn't the opposition be making hay while the sun shines? Or is it that they don't know how to use the haymaker and are determined to set the crop on fire instead?

Watching this year's Conservative Party Conference from the outside has been a bit like intruding on private grief – I can't believe how downbeat everyone seems to be.


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Even former Suffolk County Council Conservative group leader Sue Sida-Lockett, one of the most loyal Tories you'll find, told the BBC that the jury was out on Iain Duncan Smith's leadership of the party.

Speaking later she told me that the conference had been good at discussing politics, but the leadership question had been a distraction – especially for the media.

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"The problem is, we have some good policies but no one recognises the people putting them forward – the big hitters of the party have to be brought back," she said.

She certainly has a point if you look at her party's core values:

It has a reputation as the low tax party – most people want to pay as little tax as possible.

It has always sold itself as the party of law and order – most people want to live in a lawful society.

It is opposed to the euro – a policy apparently supported by most people in the country.

And it talks tough on the issue of asylum seekers – apparently expressing similar sentiments to the majority of the population according to all the opinion polls.

Yet still the party is making no real move in the national opinion polls.

I know it's closed the gap – a bit – with the government. But given the problems Mr Blair is in, the Tories should be romping ahead in the polls.

If you look at the polling figures, most of the lost Labour votes have gone to the Liberal Democrats. The Tories have stayed in more or less the same position as they were in at the last election.

So who is to blame for the Tories' problems? The party leadership. Not just Iain Duncan Smith (although he has to take the lion's share of the blame) but the whole faceless lot of them.

I feel really sorry for the local activists who are slogging their guts out to make an impact when they know there is no real support from the top.

What's interesting is that when I start talking to Tories, after a few minutes they'll ask: "How do you think IDS compares with Blair or Kennedy?"

I have to be honest – he's a cold fish. Every time I've seen him has given the impression he'd rather be somewhere else.

He's never been rude or unpleasant, he just seems to be going through the motions.

When I've met the prime minister or Charles Kennedy they've come across as much more human, much easier to talk to.

The last time I met Mr Blair, just before Ipswich were relegated, he opened our conversation with: "Your lot aren't doing so well now, are they?" It was a good icebreaker – and you can't imagine IDS opening with a line like that.

When I tell Tories this they smile and shrug their shoulders. "He's got to learn that kind of thing," they say wistfully – but I suspect they know it's the kind of style you either have or you don't. It can't be learned.

Many, many local Conservatives are, I know, in despair about their party's prospects.

They expect to regain power at County Hall in 18 months' time and I would be surprised if they didn't. They've built up a good team there.

But when the chips are down at the next general election they're expecting another trouncing – possibly regaining some seats but they could lose more again to the Liberal Democrats.

The only thing saving Iain Duncan Smith's job is that his opponents inside the party can't agree on a candidate to challenge him.

And that's hardly a ringing vote of confidence in a man who wants to be prime minister.

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