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Tuesday, 5 November, 2002, 18:04 GMT
Will the Tory party unite? Ask our political expert
Iain Duncan Smith has warned rebel Tory MPs that they must unite behind his leadership if the party is to be taken seriously.
The embattled Tory leader, referring to efforts to "undermine" him, told a packed press conference that the Conservatives "cannot go on in this fashion."
Mr. Duncan Smith had spent the morning locked in crisis talks after hastily cancelling a scheduled appearance at a press conference on housing policy.
"I cannot allow the efforts of a dedicated team in parliament or of hundreds of thousands of hard-working volunteers to be sabotaged by self-indulgence or indiscipline."
Eight Tories - including former Conservative leadership challengers Michael Portillo and Ken Clarke - defied a Conservative three line whip (an order to vote a particular way) to back giving unmarried and gay couples the ability to adopt.
BBC political correspondent Nick Assinder answered your questions in a LIVE forum.
"Unite or die" - that was the gauntlet thrown down by Iain Duncan-Smith to the Tory Party today. A rebellion by Conservative Back-Benchers including big names - Michael Portillo and Ken Clarke - over the Adoption Bill led to crisis talks all morning.
Now the leader's turned on his critics. But is his call for unity going to work or is this now the end game for the embattled Tory leader?
Nick Assinder is News Online's Political Correspondent. He's at Millbank to answer your questions.
Nick a very straightforward question to start with: Ian Baxter, Scotland: Do you think IDS has blundered badly over this?
When people rebelled, what do you then do? He must have asked himself the question at some point - if somebody defies this three-line Whip, defies my authority - what do I do? We've now got the answer - nothing.
What was Iain Duncan-Smith thinking when he put a three line on the Adoption Bill?
I think their answer would probably be that yes, they think the party should unite, but actually around something slightly different and that you need somebody in a position in that job who can, if you like, force unity. That's what I think Iain Duncan-Smith is trying to do at the moment in this stage in the game. He is trying to impose unity and we shall see how that turns out.
But yes, he is in trouble. The Labour Party is going to take their advantage out of this. Tomorrow's Question Time between Iain Duncan-Smith and Tony Blair will be one of the most closely watched, I think, for a long time.
Charles Kennedy, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, regularly makes this point of course - as he may well do and likes to portray his party as the real opposition now - the effective opposition. It is a real problem.
What of course often happens and why the Labour Party and the Labour Party supporters, like our e-mailer, may be worried about of course is that if a government as powerful with such a big majority as the Labour Government doesn't have an effective official opposition, they get it from their own Back-Benchers and that of course does happen and has happened in the past.
And of course, history shows us that Margaret Thatcher for a long time had no effective opposition and she was warned about exactly that by her own side at that time as well.
It's a major problem for Iain Duncan-Smith and I guess all he can do is put his hands up and face the fact that he will get that sort of criticism. Nonetheless, I still think that he does need to take that line to try and hammer home this unity line because it is the divisions and arguably it was that division that helped "do" for John Major.
Is Iain Duncan-Smith in a position to continue, considering that three line Whip on the relaxation of the rules over gay couples and unmarried couples adopting children? Is he in a position to continue or does that look like he doesn't want to reform the party?
I think most people in the Tory Party agree that there has to be change. Now there is obviously the argument between the so-called "Mods" and the "Rockers". Iain Duncan-Smith has decided that on certain key policies - like what you might describe as more liberal policies - the party needs to adopt those, be more inclusive, more outward looking.
It's the constant sniping, from both sides, that is making his job increasingly difficult. He's got to stick with it, I guess.
The Tories are in serious trouble at the moment - I think we have to accept that. It's quite possible that Iain Duncan-Smith can weather this though, I think. But on the specific point about who there could be to replace him as some point in the future.
Michael Portillo has said that he won't do it so many times now that if he suddenly changes his mind, I find - to coin a phrase - it difficult to foresee any circumstances under which his membership would accept that sudden change of heart. So yes, indeed, maybe he wants to see himself - maybe he's trying to play the part - as king-maker, if you like.
There are candidates there. It has to be said, it's not a big field, I don't think. A lot of the people who may be future leaders perhaps haven't spent enough time yet in post. Others, it has to be said, people like Ken Clarke, are seen as very senior, very experienced - past it.
That was starting to happen. He expected and wanted a period to carry that through, a period to unite the party, get over the traumas of two horrific election defeats and gradually move forward and rebuild. And he clearly feels he's just not being given the chance to do that. He's having to fight so many battles on so many different fronts from people who should be on his side, that his attention is constantly being distracted from that job.
Doesn't Iain Duncan-Smith have a terribly difficult balancing act to do between the group which wants to take the Tory Party into the 21st century and the hardcore, old-fashioned Tories? Is it time now for the Tory Party to split into two perhaps?
It may well be that Iain Duncan-Smith has to be a bit more explicit about which of "Mods" and "Rockers" - for want of a better phrase - which of those routes he wants to take the party down and closes the door on the other group in whatever form he may wish to do that. That may be a way forward.
But as you say, it is a difficult balancing act. If you want to keep the traditionalists on board - and bear in mind a lot of those traditionalists are the people in place in the local authorities, in local constituency associations. You can't just dismiss them, you can't just consign them to the dustbin of history.
On other issues, there's a job of persuasion perhaps to be done - to persuade people that certain attitudes maybe towards certain groups in society, certain races, cultures and so on, are no longer tolerable and that is job that has to be done. Frankly I don't see a sign of great resistance to that in the vast body of the Tory Party.
The Conference was quite interesting on that. I certainly expected slightly more opposition to that sort of talk from the platform than actually happened. And when you looked at the audience at the Tory Party conference, it was exactly the sort of people we're talking about - traditionalists - what used to be called the "blue rinse brigade". They're still there, they're still very powerful - they make or break leaders now. But they did seem to be open-minded - they did seem to be open to this new agenda.
This forum has ended. Thank you for your questions.
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