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Last Updated: Friday, 2 May, 2003, 06:58 GMT 07:58 UK
Tory frontbencher quits post
Crispin Blunt
Crispin Blunt quit while voting continued

A senior Conservative has quit his party's front bench with a call for Iain Duncan Smith to be replaced as leader.

Crispin Blunt's resignation came as polling ended in the English, Scottish and Welsh elections, which were seen as a major test of Mr Duncan Smith's leadership.

Mr Blunt, a shadow trade and industry minister, said he had decided to quit because the Tory leader had no chance of leading his party to victory at the next election.

Mr Blunt says he made his decision after failing to persuade the Tory leader to step down or at least put himself to a vote of confidence among party members.

We carry the handicap of a leader whom Conservatives in Parliament and outside feel unable to present to the electorate as a credible alternative Prime Minister
Crispin Blunt

In a statement issued while voting was still under way across Britain, he said: "This evening I resigned from Iain Duncan Smith's frontbench team as I can no longer reconcile my public duty to him with my own views of the consequences of his leadership for the success of the Conservative Party.

"Whatever the headline results in today's local elections, the fact is the Conservative Party is making no real progress when we should be taking advantage of the opportunity our opponents and events have offered.

"If the electorate perceived us as a credible alternative government the potential support for us could carry us back to government.

He was a valuable member of my team, I'm sorry he's going but I'm afraid in a few days time he'll just be a footnote
Tim Yeo
Shadow trade secretary

"However, we carry the handicap of a leader whom Conservatives in Parliament and outside feel unable to present to the electorate as a credible alternative prime minister.

"If we are a political party that is serious about regaining power, our leader has to now be replaced."

Mr Blunt said Mr Duncan Smith could take credit for the policy work he had initiated.

But he added that "any of his likely successors" could be presented to the public as an alternative prime minister.

Mr Blunt's boss, shadow trade secretary Tim Yeo, said he regretted the MP's decision but said in a few days he would just be a "footnote".

A party spokesman insisted Mr Blunt's resignation was no surprise: "He has been at odds with the party leadership for some time, notably over foreign policy.

But Tony Collinson, chairman of Mr Blunt's constituency association, said the MP had been thinking about resigning from the front bench "for a very long time".

William Hague

"I believe that he felt that this was the right time to do it and I support him wholeheartedly," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Mr Collinson said he also thought Mr Duncan Smith should go, stressing that with Labour's "many mistakes", the Tories' share of the vote "should have rocketed".

"I have thought that for a long time because I don't think he is leading the party where the party ought to be moving," he said.

"I have to be honest, my choice [for leader], if he was still available, would be William Hague because I think infact he is a wonderful orator.

"He's a very young man and he has a good chance of coming forward again."

John Reid, Labour's Leader of the Commons, said he was "as bemused as the rest of the nation" about Mr Blunt's departure.

"It really is extraordinary that the Conservative Party could have inflicted such a disaster on itself before the first vote has even been counted," Dr Reid told BBC News 24.

'No changing fortunes'

He said the Tories' problems went further than disquiet about the leadership - the party was "separated from the British people on almost every issue imaginable".

Liberal Democrat Chairman Mark Oaten had a similar message.

He said: "Crispin Blunt's disaffection with the Conservative Party leader is understandable.

"However, changing leaders will not change the fortunes of the Conservatives."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"If a proper challenge starts, anything could happen"


Crispin Blunt
"Iain Duncan Smith has not made the neccessary impact"



SEE ALSO:
Crispin Blunt
16 Oct 02  |  Politics
Full text of Blunt's statement
01 May 03  |  Politics



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