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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 October, 2003, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
Will Rambo Smith see off critics

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

So, in his most desperate hour, Iain Duncan Smith appears to have fallen back on his army training and come out with an AK47 under one arm and a flame thrower under the other.

He is in particularly Rambo mode over what he sees as the "cowards in the shadows" targeting his wife as a way of getting at him.

Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan Smith has all guns blazing
Using the sort of tough language he has recently started to deploy - and which has genuinely surprised some in his circle - he has spoken about "fixing" his enemies.

And he has challenged them to "come after me" rather than his wife.

That may all be perfectly understandable from a man who, in relative terms , has not thrust his wife into the political spotlight.

Nasty campaign

And it may well strike a chord with those who believe attacks on a leader's wife are beyond the pale.

He obviously believes his new language is more likely to chime with ordinary voters.

He also has a point when he talks about his detractors working anonymously and in the shadows - and that must be hugely frustrating.

He is fighting a particularly nasty campaign against his leadership from enemies unprepared to put their heads over the parapet.

Iain Duncan Smith and his wife Betsy
Wives are part of the package
He would much rather see the whites their eyes.

They would argue this is not an attack on his wife. It is an attack on his decision to employ his wife.

It may well be part of the wider campaign to destabilise and finally remove him. But it is directed at him, not his spouse.

We have seen this sort of defence before - from the prime minister over "Cheriegate."

Political purposes

At the height of that affair it was being suggested that it was enemies of the prime minister using his wife to get at him. Ultimately, it did not wash.

For, whatever the politicians believe, very few voters think they ever refrain from using their wives for political purposes when it suits them.

Taking them on walkabouts and calling them onto the conference platform for adoring looks at the end of big speeches adds to that general impression.

Nowadays, the spouse is part of the package. Perhaps they should be paid just for that role?

Still, that all remains a distraction form the main issue which is that IDS is under concerted attack from his enemies and is suffering damage as a result.

How, when or if his detractors will move against him is still the question. "Betsygate", as it is inevitably becoming known, simply adds another factor into the equation.

His aggressive, all-or-nothing response is another factor, but one which could work either way - frightening off some of his enemies, or encouraging them to take up his challenge.

Equally there is debate over whether the inquiry will postpone any challenge or prompt the plotters into action to heal the rift in the party.

All in all, there is something dizzyingly circular about the current state of play in the Tory party.

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