The Tories: Essex man is new darling of the right

A rising star of the buoyant Tory right has emerged in Blackpool. Fran Abrams meets Iain Duncan-Smith, the latest standard-bearer of the Euro-sceptic tendency.

Introducing the Conservatives' new social security spokesman at a fringe meeting yesterday, the Buckingham MP John Bercow was fulsome in his praise. "For those of you who don't know Iain Duncan-Smith, you soon will do," he said. "He is the sea-green incorruptible of the Conservative Party."

Asked yesterday whether he saw himself as a natural leader of the right, Mr Duncan-Smith replied: "I don't particularly believe in right and left. I think this is a battle of ideas."

He is certainly proud of his status as successor to Norman Tebbit's Chingford seat. Speaking alongside Lord Tebbit on Tuesday, he told his audience: "Here you have the maker and the man on the same platform."

However, he added later: "I will never be Norman. Norman is inimicable." He refused to disown his predecessor's comments on race, while maintaining that as a member of the shadow cabinet he supported William Hague's dismissive line on the subject.

Elected in 1992, the former Scots Guards captain has risen quickly to prominence. Colleagues admire his ability to master a brief and his uncompromising attitude. He was one of 26 Conservative MPs who voted against the Government over the Maastricht Treaty.

Dapper but prematurely grey and balding at 43, "he wears a pinstripe well but the only thing about him much softer than Norman are his vowels," according to one commentator.

Mr Duncan-Smith may be loyal to his leader now, but he did take an opportunity this week to take a swipe at John Major. Praising Hague's promise to oppose a single currency if a referendum were called, he added: "Imagine! A Conservative leader saying, `We have made a decision!"

Eurosceptic colleagues clearly feel that Mr Duncan-Smith is one to watch. He has been among a number of right-wingers who have made their presence very firmly felt during the week at Blackpool.

There may have been polite applause for both William Hague and John Major in the Winter Gardens, but out on the fringe the story was different.

While no one in the Tory Party would admit to being pleased by the disastrous result it suffered on May 1 this year, the tone in some quarters has been less than repentant. The party's Euro-sceptic wing have been out in force at the conference, reinforcing what they clearly see as a chance to grab the baton of power.

If Mr Duncan-Smith should see himself as a possible successor to Mr Hague, he will probably not be the only one. A big turnout is expected tonight for a fringe meeting to be addressed by Michael Portillo. Its title is intriguing, if ironic: "The ghost of Toryism past. The spirit of Conservatism future?"