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EDITIONS
Sunday, 6 October, 2002, 18:35 GMT 19:35 UK
Tory leader comes out fighting
Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan Smith wants to break with the Tories' past

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith has moved to slap down the critics sniping at his leadership of the party.

Speaking as the Tory faithful gathered in Bournemouth for a crunch conference, he said he would be unveiling a host of new polices to set the party on course for the next election.

The party has unveiled a new look for conference
But he also showed he was ready to take on those attacking him from his own backbenches.

"I am here to lead the party and I am going to lead the party, because this party has to follow the strategy that I have set out, because there is no other way."

Many are now predicting that he will use part of his keynote speech at the end of the conference to take on his critics.

Fall in line

Mr Duncan Smith has also made it clear he is not about to be rattled by attacks from "figures from the past".

He has suffered a number of attacks from senior figures including former Chancellor and leadership contender Kenneth Clarke and Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

And he is under pressure from his own supporters to meet them head on with a stern warning to fall in line behind him or keep quiet.

I am going to be showing this week that we have now broken free of the public's perception of us in 1997

Iain Duncan Smith

But aides let it be known on Sunday evening that the critics are no longer people actively involved in the shadow cabinet or the leadership of the party.

His job was to get on with developing the 25 new policies which are being unveiled this week in key areas such as health, education and crime, aimed at "improving quality of life".

Mr Duncan Smith admitted there had been problems, but said he was moving into "phase two" of his programme, bringing forward "serious policy positions".

He told the BBC: "I can guarantee that as the public begins to understand what we are saying - that we have a new way for health and better prospects for crime and law and order - they will actually begin to believe us again."

Intend to deliver

He added: "We need people to understand once again that the Conservative party is the party they want and will deliver the sort of policies they want.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith
Duncan Smith is under pressure
"We are going to be doing that this week and I intend to deliver it."

The new-look Tory conference, with a changing themed backdrop each day, was unveiled on Sunday by Party Chairman Theresa May, who claimed the design was intended to offer a more open look and feel.

For the first time there will be external speakers with expertise in specific areas who, she insisted, had not been chosen for their political affiliations.

Representatives will be able to make contributions to the debates as well as in a special video box.

'Physical symbol'

The sparse new set has dispensed with the old platform style in favour of three single lecterns projecting into the audience.

"This is a physical symbol of a different conference for a different party," she said.

New polices already outlined include: Proposals expected include:

  • Giving parents the right to set up their own state-funded schools if they are unhappy with standards;
  • Offering children at failing state schools a 5,000 a year scholarship to move to a private school;
  • New policies on drugs, law and order and child protection

Earlier this week former leadership rival Kenneth Clarke accused Mr Duncan Smith of failing to develop a clear policy agenda.

Ahead

One-time foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind also weighed in, saying the leader had damaged his party's credibility with his "unquestioning" support for Blair over Iraq.

An ICM poll for the News of the World newspaper gave both the Tories and Liberal Democrats the same level of electoral support with 24% of the vote, while Labour is out ahead on 43%.

Meanwhile, a separate poll for ITV1's Jonathan Dimbleby programme found the Lib Dems are seen as the most effective opposition to Labour by 41% of the public, more than twice the 19% who chose the Conservatives.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Pienaar in Bournemouth
"Iain Duncan Smith is admitting that he is angry"
Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative Party Leader
"There is always a make or break every conference"

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