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Tuesday, 5 November, 2002, 13:55 GMT
Duncan Smith's big gamble
Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith
Duncan Smith's leadership crisis has worsened

With a sure touch and a determined air Iain Duncan Smith strode into the crisis surrounding his leadership - and only appears to have added to his woes.

In the sort of press conference usually reserved for leadership resignations, he refused to take questions but made a short personal statement.

And he laid it firmly on the line to his rebels.

He knew they were deliberately out to sabotage his leadership and further their own ambitions, he said. But he wasn't having it.

Former leadership contender Michael Portillo
Portillo: Confirmed rumblings
And, just for a moment there was the suspicion he might be about to do something to them. But he wasn't.

He has always known who these people are. They have done little to disguise their concern over his leadership style and the direction he is taking the party.

Lately, of course, they have become more vocal, attracting charges of disloyalty from the leadership.

But that is an extremely difficult card for Mr Duncan Smith to play. He was, after all, one of the leading anti-Maastricht rebels against John Major when he was leader.

Greatest venom

Still, he IS furious that the eight rebels defied his orders over the adoption vote. But he has done absolutely nothing to discipline them, leaving them to carry on regardless.

Now he knows exactly how furious and frustrated Mr Major felt with the Maastricht rebels.

Top of his blacklist at the moment are without doubt the terrible twins of the last leadership election - losers Michael Portillo and Kenneth Clarke, with Mr Portillo probably attracting the greatest venom.

The failed leadership contender has suddenly upped his profile in Westminster and is assiduously working the bars, benches and backrooms.

The gossip around Westminster has for some weeks now been about what Michael is up to. No one knows for sure - but everyone expects its about the leadership.

He keeps denying it but, after each denial, appears to do something to further undermine Mr Duncan Smith.

Little better

First he praised his leader's conference speech but, in effect, challenged him to follow through the talk with action.

Former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke
Clarke: could be persuaded
Then he became the first Tory MP to confirm there were rumblings about Mr Duncan Smith's leadership.

Now he has led those defying a three-line whip.

Former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke is seen as little better.

He hasn't won as much air time as Mr Portillo and hasn't been working behind the scenes quite as assiduously.

But everyone knows he believes he should be leading the party and could just about be persuaded to do it.

Fanned flames

John Bercow has now joined those two senior backbenchers at the top of the list of hate.

His resignation from the frontbench over the adoption issue dramatically fanned the flames and was seen by many as his way of getting out from under a failing leader.

But rather than stamping down hard on all this, Mr Duncan Smith has done nothing.

And that will only make matters worse by allowing some people to suggest he is making deeply flawed political decisions and lacks the bottle to draw blood.

This crisis may be only just beginning.

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See also:

05 Nov 02 | Politics
04 Nov 02 | Politics
03 Nov 02 | Politics
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