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Last Updated: Friday, 2 May, 2003, 08:05 GMT 09:05 UK
Tory plotters need another excuse

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Duncan Smith may still face a challenge

If Tory plotters were looking for an excuse to launch a leadership coup against Iain Duncan Smith, the local elections have not given it to them.

That does not mean they will not do it, of course. And Crispin Blunt's resignation has increased the possibility.

He has even declared he resigned in the hope his move would help provoke a challenge. And he has moved to spark a vote of no confidence in his leader.

However, he has also insisted that he is not a stalking horse for any of the potential candidates - presumably to make it more difficult to dismiss his action.

But the truth is, they were expecting - some even hoping - that the party would score so badly that there would be a near uprising against Mr Duncan Smith.

Credible player

The plotters do still have some ammunition from the night's results, however.

The party may have made far more gains that virtually anyone had expected and, in doing so, shown it is still a credible player.

But the sting in the tail is the crucial share of the vote. And on that there is some continuing bad news.

The blunt fact is that the party is still flat lining. It may not have gone into terminal decline, but neither has it sat up and demanded to leave the emergency ward.

If it scored these sorts of figures in a general election it would lose.

Double edged sword

Of course there is a long way to go until the next general election.

But, as far as Mr Duncan Smith is concerned, that is a double edged sword.

From his point of view, it means he has time to underpin his leadership and turn the party around into an election winning machine.

But it also means there is plenty of time to replace him and let another leader bed down.

Indeed, as far as timing goes, if the party really believes he cannot win them that election, now is the ideal time to get rid of him.

None of this alters the cold fact, however, that the mechanism for choosing a leader makes a carefully crafted coup almost impossible.

Unless Tory backbenchers can agree on a single challenger - and there are few signs of that happening - the next leader would be selected by grassroots members.


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