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EDITIONS
Friday, 21 February, 2003, 14:29 GMT
Tory champagne stays on ice
Iain Duncan visits Downing Street on Thursday
The Tory leader is a long way from Number 10

Canny political leaders are always highly reluctant to celebrate their anniversaries.

It is just tempting the fates too much to throw a party, encourage cards or make grand public appearances.

Margaret Thatcher famously did everything possible to avoid marking her 10th anniversary in Downing Street.

And Tony Blair was equally reluctant to mark his own half-decade running the country.

The Tories have failed to make the breakthrough needed to suggest they are staging a full-scale comeback

So it is no surprise that Iain Duncan Smith is planning no flag-waving celebrations on his first anniversary as Conservative leader.

His critics would, of course, declare that was simply because he has little to celebrate. And they have a point.

Poll worries

Twelve months since Mr Duncan Smith beat former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke and Michael Portillo to the top job, little appears to have changed for the Tories.

They are still languishing in the polls and showing no sign of being able to challenge Labour in the popularity stakes.

The government's ratings do fluctuate according to whatever is gripping people at the time the survey is taken.

Ken Clarke
Ken Clarke lost out a year ago
But the trend shows the Tories have failed to make the breakthrough needed to suggest they are staging a full-scale comeback.

Similarly, even though recent troubles have hit the prime minister's personal standing, there is no suggestion voters now see Mr Duncan Smith as a prime minister in waiting.

He still attracts the tag Iain Duncan Who? And even Rory Bremner's attentions have failed to turn him into an instantly recognisable character.

Details to come

At the same time, voters and Conservative activists are waiting for the big policy announcements promised by the Tory leader.

There have been the odd hints here and there, such as punishing parents who refuse to guarantee their children will attend school, and boosting private involvement in the public services.

And there have been the odd bits of downright opportunism over issues like donations to the Labour Party.

Duncan Smith has kept a lid on the euro debate
But, by and large, there is still a large degree of confusion amongst voters about what the new Tory party really stands for.

Those polices will be fleshed out, we are promised, in time for the next general election.

The only thing that has emerged with apparent clarity is Mr Duncan Smith's determination to recast the Tories as inclusive and to dispel its image as elitist and bigoted - a route first charted by his predecessor William Hague.

Blair exchanges

He has taken action to tackle racism and extreme right-wing elements in his party, most notably with the sacking of veteran MP Ann Winterton for cracking a racist joke.

His initially lacklustre and throaty question time performances have improved beyond measure and he regularly catches the prime minister on the hop during their weekly clashes.

Probably his greatest achievement, however, is to have kept the lid on the Europe debate on his own back benches.

The Tory leader has also managed to stamp his authority on his party.

It was feared that after the Eurosceptic's election, and the defeat of arch Euro-enthusiast Kenneth Clarke, the party might indulge in a bit of civil war.

Mr Duncan Smith may have been helped by Tony Blair's refusal to raise Europe up the political agenda but he has succeeded in averting the worst.

That may still come, of course, whenever the vote on the euro comes - but at this rate, Mr Duncan Smith may be back on the back benches by then.

Meanwhile, the Tory leader has also managed to stamp his authority on his party.

The swift sacking of Mrs Winterton helped build his tough-guy image as did the sidelining of would-be leader David Davis - no matter how messily that was handled.

The move was designed to end internal feuding, whipped up by apparatchiks in Central Office, over whether the Tories should return to their roots or attempt to appeal more to a more diverse electorate.

Long way to go

That has angered some of the more old-style Tories, like Nicholas Soames, who thinks the party should stop obsessing over gays, blacks and women.

This infighting still has the potential to cause Mr Duncan Smith serious trouble and may even erupt at this year's party conference in Bournemouth next month.

But there are few indications yet that the broader Tory party membership is ready to abandon the new leader.

They appear ready to give him a chance to rebuild the party in the hope he can create an election winning organisation.

But, as Mr Duncan Smith passes his 12 month point, most would accept he still has a very long way to go.

See also:

15 Aug 01 | Politics
11 Sep 02 | Politics
09 Aug 02 | Politics
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