Duncan Smith seeks to get his message across
Iain Duncan Smith has sought to depict the Tories as a party preparing for government.
At an "away day" for his MPs, the Conservative leader brushed aside questions about party splits and said last week's local election results were a good platform from which to launch his party's comeback.
The event in Buckinghamshire, which will last into the weekend, comes after a key ally of Mr Duncan Smith had to quit a top role in the party in a move seen as damaging to the Tory leader.
But, in bullish form, Mr Duncan Smith insisted his "united" party was poised to offer the British public a "fair deal" at the next elections.
Prime Minister Tony Blair had not "got that long left" and the message for voters from the Tories was they offered lower taxation and reform of public services.
Rejecting talk of splits as meaningless to the public, Mr Duncan Smith said: "Bonding or plotting are nothing to do with today - this is wholly to do with the serious business of how we defeat the Labour government.
"Last week we demonstrated without any doubt that we are now the powerful, building political force in the UK.
"We are now the largest party in local government.
"We are the force and what we are doing is to build on that success."
Party chairman Theresa May added: "Everybody is extremely positive about the future.
"We have had the success last week and it has put the party as a whole in an upbeat mood."
More than 120 of the party's 163 MPs attended Friday's meetings along with party workers.
Absent critics of the leadership included Mr Duncan Smith's former rival Kenneth Clarke and Reigate MP Crispin Blunt, who quit his frontbench post last week.
Mr Duncan Smith said MPs would be working on getting their message across in the two and a half years remaining before the next election.
He is expected to expand on his campaign slogan "a fair deal for everyone" and there will be sessions on policy, polling and presentation.
And Tory MP Anthony Steen, named as a rebel by sources close to the Conservative leader last autumn, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the party had united behind Mr Duncan Smith despite "a number of hiccoughs and a number of difficulties".
But there was criticism from the opposition parties.
Liberal Democrat spokesman Mark Oaten said: "The
thought of Ann Widdecombe, John Redwood and IDS bonding sounds more like the
Rocky Horror Show than a serious political party.
"If the Tories find it difficult to love each other, it will come as no surprise that the public doesn't either."
Mr Duncan Smith's allies will see the weekend away is a chance to move on after the departure of party chief executive Barry Legg's this week.
Mr Legg's resignation pre-empted next week's meeting of the Conservative Party board which had been expected not to grant its approval to the ex-MP's appointment.
As a Westminster councillor, Mr Legg played a key part in a decision, later condemned by a public inquiry commissioned by the council, to move homeless families into two London tower blocks known to be riddled with asbestos.
As company secretary of food company Hillsdown Holdings, Mr Legg was also involved in a decision to remove an £18m surplus from a pension fund, which a High Court judgment described as unjust and unauthorised.
The company was ordered to repay the money with interest.
Mr Legg said he had been over-ruled after trying to persuade his company to give pensioners some of the surplus. He had no recollection of the council decision.