Iain Duncan Smith's campaign for the Tory leadership was accused of being "in total disarray" yesterday when he changed his mind yet again on Section 28.
Kenneth Clarke went on the offensive after the shadow Defence Secretary's campaign announced that he would "never" repeal the controversial law banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools.
The change of heart followed heavy criticism from hardline Tory MPs and members who were shocked by his comments at the weekend suggesting he would review the law. Mr Duncan Smith had surprised colleagues on Sunday with a U-turn on his previous staunch opposition to Section 28, declaring that it "stigmatised" the gay community.
But his spokesman made clear yesterday that there was no suggestion of repealing the law and that it was up to others to come up with better ways of drafting it. "Iain would never look at repealing Section 28 because this legislation defends the vulnerable in society, our children, and that's what's important. There is no question of repealing it," he said.
It is understood that Tory MPs supporting Mr Duncan Smith were inundated with calls from members asking why he had changed his mind on the issue.
Mr Clarke was scathing about his opponent's "U-turn on a U-turn", claiming that most members would be confused by his precise position on the issue. "It is strange considering his former views. My advice to him is to not keep changing his mind in the middle of a leadership campaign," he said.
The Clarke camp widened their attack on Mr Duncan Smith, suggesting that he had also changed his mind on cannabis, withdrawal from the EU and even the 2001 general election result. Mr Clarke's spokesman said: "Iain Duncan Smith has snapped under pressure from the hardline extremists in his campaign. This shows that he's not a leader, he's a follower. His campaign is now in total disarray."
The Duncan Smith camp countered that it was concentrating instead on the "real issues" of the leadership contest, such as health and education, and said Mr Clarke had failed to come up with any new ideas.
Mr Clarke denied he was lagging behind in the contest after a new phone poll claimed his rival was ahead by a massive margin of four to one. The former chancellor, on the campaign trail in Bristol, said the contest was wide open and nobody knew for sure who was leading. "No one has the first idea who is going to win because no one can actually poll the people who have the vote," he said.
A phone poll of party members who had attended Mr Duncan Smith's meetings in Yorkshire, Kent and Staffordshire found he had 81 per cent backing compared with 19 per cent for Mr Clarke. But the Clarke camp described the poll as "laughable" and skewed in his opponent's favour.Reuse content