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Friday, 1 November, 2002, 04:50 GMT
Tory chief dismisses challenge threat
Iain Duncan Smith
Does the "quiet man" face a leadership challenge?
Iain Duncan Smith has dismissed as "nonsense" the speculation that he might face a challenge to his leadership of the Conservative Party.

During a visit to Oxford he said the general public "are not the slightest bit interested in all this nonsense that goes at Westminster".

He has got to show that he wants the leadership

Michael Portillo on Iain Duncan Smith

Instead, he said, they wanted to hear about plans to improve public services such as schools and hospitals.

In an interview in Friday's Independent, the Tory leader said: "We are not going to have any change. I can guarantee that.

"I know where I am going. Every day I do this I become more and more certain that what I am doing is right."

Mr Duncan Smith's comments came after Michael Portillo confirmed there were "mutterings" against the Tory leader from some MPs.

Mr Portillo, who lost out in last year's leadership contest, said Mr Duncan Smith needed to strike back against any plotters.

'Fight back'

His intervention came as former leader William Hague called on Tory MPs to pull behind Mr Duncan Smith - and one "plotter" named by the Daily Telegraph denied being disloyal.

David Davis, a one time leadership contender who was sacked by Mr Duncan Smith as party chairman, told BBC's Question Time he would "never" challenge the Tory leader.

"I would actually not challenge him - he's a good friend," he said.

I'll never challenge Iain

David Davis
Mr Portillo urged Mr Duncan Smith to fight back: "He has got to show that he wants the leadership. He has got to show which direction he is leading us in."

Although Mr Portillo repeated his lack of interest in becoming Tory leader, his every comment on such matters is seen to raise tensions in the party between his "modernising" backers, and the more traditionalist Tories.

Mr Hague warned Tory MPs that constantly changing their leader was not the way to win back power.

"I know of no possible leader of the Conservative Party who would not have to face the same issues and inevitable difficulties.

Michael Portillo
Portillo has ruled out trying again for the leadership
"I hope the rumours I read of plots against my successor are soon forgotten."

Mr Davis, who is now shadowing the deputy prime minister's brief, said few things annoyed him more than the "mutterings".

"I can't think what some of my colleagues think they are doing with that," he said.

Voters would see Mr Duncan Smith was "the one who is straight forward, honest and people trust", with a party that can deliver on health, education and transport.

He added: "I'll never challenge Iain. Absolutely not."

Meanwhile Andrew Mitchell, named as one of the Tory MP plotters by the Daily Telegraph, denied being disloyal, in an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Opinion poll

The day of speculation followed reports of a revolt against Mr Duncan Smith, on the back of a poll which found the majority of Tory voters were unhappy with his leadership.

The party is going through a certain amount of turmoil as it comes to terms with the strategy we are pursuing

Bernard Jenkin
Shadow defence secretary
Reports suggested that opponents of Mr Duncan Smith were discussing whether they can muster the 25 signatures on a motion of no confidence needed to trigger a leadership battle.

But according to Mr Portillo, his leadership was not an issue at last night's meeting of the Tory backbench 1922 committee.

Mori's political monitor poll for October suggested a minus 7 approval rating for the Tory leader from Conservative supporters.


Thirty-two per cent of those Tories questioned said they were satisfied with his leadership, compared to 39% who were not.

There have long been rumblings among sections of the Tory party about their leader's performance.

But a spokesman for Mr Duncan Smith said on Wednesday that talk of a possible leadership challenge was "fantasy land politics".

"This is a tiny and irrelevant rump of malcontents from the last leadership contest," he added.

Shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I don't think it is a serious plot.

"I think you will find that this blows over."

The BBC's Robert Orchard
"IDS faces the kind of whispering campaign that would make even a quiet man blanche"
Amanda Platell, Former adviser to the Tory party
"There are times you just need to knuckle down"
Campaign for Conservative Democracy's John Strafford
and Peter Osborne of The Spectator on the leadership rumours
See also:

11 Oct 02 | Politics
21 Oct 02 | England
11 Sep 02 | Politics
31 Oct 02 | Politics
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