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EDITIONS
Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 02:27 GMT
Tory MPs 'rally behind' leader
Iain Duncan Smith issuing his challenge on Tuesday
Iain Duncan Smith urged his party to 'pull together'
Tory backbenchers have rallied behind Iain Duncan Smith at a private meeting after a senior MP said talk of a crisis was "self-induced".

Former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke was speaking as Mr Duncan Smith went on the attack in the Commons as he tried to end the turmoil in his party.

Kenneth Clarke
Clarke: Problems "entirely self-induced"
Mr Clarke told BBC Scotland that aides of Mr Duncan Smith had briefed against some of the party MPs.

Later, Tory MPs said all speakers at a meeting of backbenchers had backed their leader, who was not at the gathering.

On Tuesday, Mr Duncan Smith had dramatically reacted to a party rebellion over gay adoption by appealing to his party to "unite or die".

The high-risk rallying cry led to his appearance in the Commons on Wednesday for Prime Minister's Questions being billed as the toughest test of his career.

Backbench support

His attack on the government over Gibraltar and student tuition fees was cheered by Tory MPs, but his attempt to draw a line under the row have taken a blow with Mr Clarke's comments.

But Mr Duncan Smith will be buoyed by reports from a private meeting of the 1922 Committee, which includes all Tory backbenchers.


The Tory party will last... I don't know about Mr Duncan Smith because in the end we all die, but the party doesn't

Lady Thatcher
MPs banged the tables at the meeting in what ex-cabinet minister John Redwood said showed backing for Mr Duncan Smith.

"It just shows there is a lot of support for the leadership," Mr Redwood told BBC News 24.

"People tonight wanted to express that they are fully behind the leader and they want to go out and get on with the job of opposing the government."

Accused

Former leadership candidate Mr Clarke said the leader's aides had briefed against David Davis when he removed him as party chairman earlier this year.

The same thing again had happened again last week when four backbenchers were accused of trying to organise a vote of no confidence in Mr Duncan Smith, he said.

Mr Clarke said if there was a crisis over Mr Duncan Smith's leadership it was "entirely self-induced".

Margaret Thatcher
Lady Thatcher meets Falklands veterans
He also said talk of plots was "slightly absurd" and "we shouldn't run ourselves in this way".

Earlier on Wednesday, Lady Thatcher entered the row, saying the party would never die.

The former Conservative prime minister, speaking at an event to meet veterans of the Falklands War, said: "The Tory party will last... I don't know about Mr Duncan Smith because in the end we all die, but the party doesn't."

'No plots'

In the Commons, Mr Duncan Smith rose to cheers from backbenchers as he asked Tony Blair whether the government was planning "top up" fees for university students.

He went on to launch a bitter attack on the government for what he said were "grubby deals" with Spain over the future of Gibraltar.

Earlier, former Tory cabinet minister Michael Portillo said he hoped Mr Duncan Smith had "a good day" in the Commons.

"I'm not plotting and everyone at Westminster - including lobby journalists - knows that," he said.

The former leadership contender warned Conservatives to avoid "self inflicted wounds".

The party needed a "clear, consistent policy that stayed the same from one day to the next", he said.

There is talk in Westminster that Mr Portillo and Mr Clarke are preparing to unite to form a "dream ticket" leadership challenge.

Theresa May
Waiting to see what the rebels do next
Mr Duncan Smith's "unite or die" plea on Tuesday came after eight of his MPs defied party orders the night before and backed plans to allow unmarried and gay couples to adopt.

The embattled Tory leader said some of the rebels had tried to undermine him.

But both Mr Portillo and Mr Clarke denied they had ulterior motives, with Mr Portillo accusing Mr Duncan Smith of "unwarranted misinterpretation".

Another rebel, Anthony Steen, said Mr Duncan Smith was "murally dyslexic" because he "couldn't read the writing on the wall".

Party chairman Theresa May said on Wednesday that Mr Duncan Smith would "wait and see" what the rebels' next move would be following his statement.


To Mr Clarke and Mr Portillo, she stressed: "My message to them is that we need to show that we are a credible alternative government."

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Central Office had received "an awful lot" of emails and telephone calls from grassroots activists who were fed-up with the infighting in the party.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Norman Smith
"There remains no one obvious challenger to Mr Duncan-Smith"
Conservative Party donor Stuart Wheeler
"I hope and I think that Mr Duncan-Smith will survive"

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INTERACTIVE
See also:

06 Nov 02 | Politics
06 Nov 02 | Politics
06 Nov 02 | Politics

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