Grass roots split on IDS future
IAIN Duncan Smith's future has been so heavily debated over the last week that it seems to be developing into a long-running soap opera.I was in the Palace of Westminster on the day that the chief whip did – or did not – tell him that he was in danger of losing the confidence of MPs.
IAIN Duncan Smith's future has been so heavily debated over the last week that it seems to be developing into a long-running soap opera.
I was in the Palace of Westminster on the day that the chief whip did – or did not – tell him that he was in danger of losing the confidence of MPs.
The rumours flying around the place were red-hot, it was the only subject anyone wanted to talk about.
But back in the real world, I was given a first-hand account of the Tory activists on the ground.
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This was from someone who has been on the streets campaigning for the party in various parts of the country for 25 years now.
A supporter of Ken Clarke in the last two leadership elections, he told me he was in despair about the party's current plight.
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"I know many party members say we should just rally round IDS and fight Labour, but what concerns me is that we can't reach out to anyone who isn't a die-hard Conservative so long as he is our leader.
"It sounds good to give members the right to elect the leader, but that's not necessarily the case. You'd get a different result if you had just the activists voting.
"The non-active members tend to only discuss politics among themselves and like old-fashioned Conservatism and are constantly going on about how wonderful Thatcher was.
"The activists go out on the doorsteps canvassing and speaking to people who aren't die-hard Tories.
"They hear their gripes and what they want from the party to get their vote – and the activists know there is still something very wrong with how the party is seen from the outside."
He said there was an acceptance within the party that a change in leadership was needed – a heavyweight leader with ministerial experience was needed.
"And it is vital to get people like Ken Clarke, Michael Portillo, and Ann Widdecombe back into the front-line.
"I find myself thinking 'Michael Howard wouldn't be so bad,' and that's something I'd have recoiled at a few years ago," he said.
Another local activist told me: "Quite frankly I just want them to get this sorted out as soon as possible for the good of the party.
"I don't care who leads the Conservatives as long as we are fighting the government, not each other, and as long as we are developing good policies."
Despite all the public assurances from MPs and other leading politicians, I can't see many of them fighting too hard to save IDS.
And I don't think too many of the vital activists on the streets of Suffolk would be weeping too many tears if he's gone by Christmas.
DURING my visit to Westminster, I was struck by the very firm split between the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
In the Commons everything is green – the benches, the carpets, the cushions.
In the Lords it's all red – and you can spot where the two meet in the corridors around the building. The red carpet finishes and the green begins.
I was told about a strange incident concerning one of the members of Charles Kennedy's private office.
As an MP, Mr Kennedy's office is in the House of Commons side of the Palace of Westminster.
However one of the people working there is a member of the House of Lords. One day a Commons official brought something to the office and was shocked to see the peer of the realm sitting on a green chair.
"That's a Commons chair," he said. "You're a Lord!" No one thought any more about it.
But when the Lord returned to his desk after lunch he found the chair had been replaced – he now had a red chair with a red cushion on it!
I was relieved to hear that no one had tried to cut a patch out of the green carpet and replace it with a red mat!