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Friday, 31 August, 2001, 13:20 GMT 14:20 UK
Peter Duncan: Profile
By BBC News Online Scotland's Brian Ponsonby

Scotland's only Tory MP Peter Duncan and leadership hopeful Iain Duncan Smith share a few things in common.

Both men are from business backgrounds and spent several years in the commercial world before they turned their attention to voters.

In political terms, they are also late developers having shunned the usual party route to electoral success.


We have a great ability for reinvention and I believe it is only a matter of time before we're back in government

Peter Duncan, MP
Most importantly however, both men share the same ideals and see political reinvention as the necessary antecedent to a Conservative return to office.

Peter Duncan is backing Ian Duncan Smith to bring about this change and in doing so, see off the party's political bruiser Ken Clarke in the leadership stakes.

This was a choice, Mr Duncan admitted, he did not make lightly.

Like every other Conservative MP, his joy at being elected was tempered by utter dejection as another Labour landslide unfolded in the early hours of 8 June.

Then, as William Hague resigned, he had to steel himself for the protracted task of choosing a new leader who was capable of remoulding the party's fortunes.

Natural resonance

Peter Duncan's approach was to talk individually with all five candidates who stood in the first round.

He said that after this round of soundings he supported Ian Duncan Smith "from the start and will continue to do so".

To label his deliberations and choice as na´ve would be churlish and overlook a similarity between both men that has natural resonance.

Peter Duncan
Election joy for Peter Duncan
Peter Duncan was born in the Scottish town of Saltcoats and attended Ardrossan Academy where he secured the grades to attend the University of Birmingham.

It was during his final year that he held the only political position he would be able to talk of for the next 14 years - vice convener of the university's Conservative club.

After graduating in 1985 with a BA in Commerce he joined Scottish retailer Mackays and progressed to project management in the company's textiles division.

He stayed three years before joining the family business John Duncan & Sons.

During the next 10 years his retail expertise helped the company diversify into contract furnishings while maintaining its textile base.

But 1998 was the year that changed the course of Peter Duncan's life.

Two party posts

Although he left the family business to set up as a consultant in the textiles trade the fallout from Tony Blair's first election landslide perhaps made the deepest impression.

He recalled: "After the 1997 disaster the Strathclyde Commission undertook a review of the party's position.

"I went to a series of meeting in late 1998 and was genuinely impressed by what I was hearing.


It was one of our target seats and I always thought it was definitely winnable with a bit of hard work

Peter Duncan, MP
"It seemed to me that the party had accepted what happened and taken the decision to move forward. I wanted to be part of that."

Peter Duncan's idea of a greater involvement was to hold two party positions by 1999 - chairman of Cunninghame North Conservative party and Deputy Chairman of West of Scotland Regional Conservatives.

During that busy year he also found time to stand for North Ayrshire Council in the Saltcoats ward.

But his admission that it was "not a natural" ward for the party amply explains his failure to get elected.

Mr Duncan's increasing involvement in the party during this period secured him the nomination in 2000 for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale.

"I was delighted to be nominated but determined that I would put everything into the campaign," he said.

'Hard work'

"It was one of our target seats and I always thought it was definitely winnable with a bit of hard work."

If his instincts were right they could not have prepared him for the catastrophe that was to befall the party on 7 June.

But those same instincts were instrumental in his decision to back Ian Duncan Smith in the leadership race from the beginning.

Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan supports Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan said: "After speaking to all the candidates, it was clear to me that Ian is the guy coming forward with ideas.

"He also has wider life experience having not been a career politician from an early age and has come to politics with something to give."

Peter Duncan also believes that Iain Duncan Smith offers clear leadership on Europe and thinks it is right that it is taking up so much time in the leadership debate.

"Europe is a great affair of state and requires a major decision from the country in the next four years," he said.

"It is only right that both candidates can be compared and contrasted on this issue.

"But any future leader must also be able to win votes on important issues like health, education and transport.

'Delivery and results'

"In these areas, we failed to get our message across in the last election.

"I believe that Ian Duncan Smith is the man to bridge Europe and the domestic policies which everyone cares about."

Mr Duncan said he believes that people want "delivery and results" from politicians rather than "political dogma".

He added: "We need to look at new systems and learn. Perhaps from those on the continent or further a field."

Ken Clarke
Ken Clarke failed to win the MP's support
As he prepares for an important speech at the Scottish Conservative conference in Perth, Peter Duncan knows that many eyes will be watching.

But his response reflects a new MP boldly growing in confidence.

"Political pundits and our opponents will write off the Conservative Party at their peril," he said.

"We have a great ability for reinvention and I believe it is only a matter of time before we're back in government."

Whether he will play a part in any future administration is unclear, for Peter Duncan's main ambition has already been fulfilled.

"I've only ever wanted to be a good constituency MP," he said.

"I was elected by 74 votes in June and if I can make this a safe Tory seat then I'll know that local people will see me as a high quality representative. That would be enough."


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