'Betsygate' affair deeply distressed my wife, complains angry Duncan Smith

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Iain Duncan Smith complained bitterly yesterday about the misery caused to his wife, Betsy, by allegations that he misused his office expenses.

The former Tory leader said she had been so distressed by the "Betsygate" furore that he had had to do the family's Christmas shopping to relieve the pressure on her.

A five-month investigation by the Commons anti-sleaze watchdog dismissed claims that she was paid for work as his diary secretary which she did not carry out, although he was criticised for using taxpayers' money to pay three staff, including his wife, for party political work. Mr Duncan Smith believes the controversy, provoked by two Conservative Central Office officials who are now party candidates, contributed to his downfall last autumn.

His anger boiled over as he told the Sunday Times: "Why did they pick on her? To get at me. She's been marvellous, incredibly supportive throughout my career, but she's never sought the political limelight. She's never even given a single interview until cleared. She didn't want anything to do with it."

He said the couple found that looking after their four children helped to distract them at the height of the crisis. He said: "You cannot just shut the door on them. If you don't engage you are deficient as a parent. Duty takes over."

In a separate interview, Mr Duncan Smith, who is setting up a think-tank called the Institute for Social Justice to champion the vulnerable, hinted he wants to return to the Tory front bench.

He told BBC1's Breakfast With Frost that he planned to remain in full-time politics, adding: "I hope to play a very full part in any future administration of the Conservative Party. Right now my role is simply to get my party elected in the best way that I can."

He said Michael Howard, his successor as Tory leader, had his "full backing" to become Britain's next Prime Minister. "I will do whatever I'm asked to do in the general sense to support Michael in his run to the next election," he said.

Asked whether he at times felt despondent when he was leader, Mr Duncan Smith said: "I'd be a liar if I said I didn't and, you know, you find yourself tested by circumstances clearly that are beyond your control at times, and particularly when they suck in your family - and that of course is always much more difficult and unusual."

He added: "The thing about politics really I suppose is you've just got to accept the rough with the smooth and get on with it."