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EDITIONS
Monday, 7 October, 2002, 11:32 GMT 12:32 UK
Tories will give their man a chance
The Tory conference set
A new look set for the Tory meeting

"Give the bloke a chance!"

It's a call you hear fairly regularly around the conference centre in Bournemouth.

And, while it's hardly the most upbeat message for Iain Duncan Smith, it does seem to sum up a widespread feeling of irritation among Tory representatives.

Former leadership contender Kenneth Clarke
Clarke is among those critical of the party leader
That irritation is directed partly at the so-called "big beasts" who have been sniping from the sidelines - Kenneth Clarke, Michael Heseltine and Malcolm Rifkind, for example.

But it is concentrated most on the media.

Queuing up

"They (the press) are deliberately trying to undermine his leadership," councillor Gary Ridley from Coventry insisted.

"You didn't get any of this before the Labour party conference," he declared.

A bit of paranoia there, perhaps. After all, Tony Blair's rally was written up beforehand as the most important and troublesome of his leadership.

And the critics weren't forced to talk to the media. Indeed, they appeared to be queuing up to put the boot into their leader.

But it is view that is echoed around the conference cafes and bars.

As is the suggestion that this conference somehow represents a re-launch of both the party and, more importantly, Mr Duncan Smith himself.

Jury is out

"We've come here with an open mind. We wanted polices and he is giving us them - so let's listen to what he has to say," declared Midlands representative Tony Brown.

On the surface that may also appear an optimistic message, but it suggests the jury is still out on IDS - another phrase that is bandied about fairly regularly here.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith
Duncan Smith has his chance
Tory representatives are a pretty loyal bunch, so it is only when the surface optimism is scratched that the underlying concerns leak out.

Most of the people here do not want to talk openly about them. But many will quietly add that there is still time between now and the next election to change leader.

"We want to give him a chance, but we will have to see how he does. There's plenty of time," said one.

Dead duck

And that is the real underlying message to Mr Duncan Smith from the ordinary representatives at this conference.

They resent outsiders telling them their man is a dead duck.

And they are plainly irritated that some of their former "stars" who should know better are contributing to the atmosphere of quiet desperation.

These are issues they would rather keep in the family and sort out in the time honoured way. That, of course, can lead to palace coups.

And there are, predictably, those who simply believe their leader is a no-hoper and should be replaced at the first opportunity.

But, it has to be said, they do not seem to represent the majority who fall fairly and squarely in the "give him a chance" camp.

And this conference is his chance.


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07 Oct 02 | Politics
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