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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
IDS: Man with a mission
Iain Duncan Smith delivers his keynote speech
Iain Duncan Smith delivers his keynote speech
Nyta Mann

The delivery was not dramatic but Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has declared himself a man with a mission: to start talking about the things voters actually care about.

The international events dominating the news inevitably dominated his conference debut as leader.

Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague
New Tory leader with the old: Can he do any better?
But his speech echoed what has been the central theme of the Blackpool gathering - that despite what most people believe, the Tories value and cherish the public services.

Throughout the conference, shadow cabinet ministers took to the platform to admit that the Conservatives were quite simply not trusted by the electorate to look after the NHS and schools.

Nor did the public care nearly as much as the Tories did about the issues that most excited them - Europe and tax cuts.

'Different set of challenges'

With voters at the last election having flatly refused to come to the Tories, Mr Duncan Smith used his speech to take his party to them.

It was a low-key performance but as even shadow ministers in the conference hall for the speech acknowledged, no one has ever accused their new leader of being an orator.

"As the years go by, the mission of a party, just like the destiny of a nation, changes," Mr Duncan Smith told the true blue faithful.

Although a generation ago "we tamed the power of the unions and unleashed the latent spirit of enterprise within our nation... now we face a different set of challenges."

And so improving the public services was now the Tories' "greatest mission at home over the coming years".

Inevitably, Europe did feature in his speech.

But the reiteration of his firm opposition to ever joining the single currency was only brief and used to park the whole issue - one about which the Tory leader knows full well his party is widely seen as obsessed to the point of destruction.

Sounds familiar

It was as part of an early bid to start shifting that impression of Europhobia that he had far more to say in praise of Europe - specifically its standards of health care and schools, which he declared were far higher than Britain's.

Iain Duncan Smith and wife Betsy greet his standing ovation
Iain Duncan Smith and wife Betsy greet his standing ovation
If the mission set out by Mr Duncan Smith sounds familiar, that's because it is.

We were here four years ago when the Conservatives had just been crushed at the polls by Labour and a new leader was promising to start the long haul back to Tory electability.

A lengthy period of public sorry-saying followed, with ex-ministers wringing their hands over how their party had somehow got itself saddled with an image of being hard, uncaring and plain nasty.

Four years and another general election later and the sum total of progress is a mere one parliamentary seat.

Mr Duncan Smith, a fierce Eurosceptic whose past rebellions played no small part in contributing to the wrecking of John Major's government, hopes his hardened, never-to-the-euro stance will enable him to do better than that.

As he optimistically told the conference, "the clarity of our position means we can concentrate on our hospitals, the failure in our schools and the crime on our streets, while others talk about a timetable for scrapping the pound".

But whether that proves to be the case remains an open question.

See also:

09 Oct 01 | Conservatives
08 Oct 01 | Conservatives
08 Oct 01 | Conservatives
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