Duncan Smith fails to impress Rifkind

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Indy Politics

A former Cabinet Minister scathingly dismissed Iain Duncan Smith for having come "from nowhere" yesterday, as the Tory leadership contest slid into acrimony.

Just days before the start of a "holiday" truce, Mr Duncan Smith, Kenneth Clarke and their respective supporters traded insults over the merits of the rival candidates.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary and a Clarke supporter, questioned whether Mr Duncan Smith had the stature or experience to lead the Tories. Asked on BBC1's Breakfast with Frost if he could cite a precedent of a party being led against its instincts, he replied: "One could say equally if Iain Duncan Smith ... was to become leader of the Party, almost unheard of for somebody without any experience, having just come really almost from nowhere, suddenly taking on the Conservative Party leadership and leading it to victory."

Sir Malcolm's attack followed Mr Clarke's accusations that his rival is an extreme right-winger who represented a "throwback to another era".

But, in an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Mr Duncan Smith claimed a Clarke victory would destroy the Tories. He said: "There is nothing more extreme than telling your Party that they're rubbish, and if you get hold of it they won't be able to follow their instincts and beliefs. That's what Ken would mean for the Tory Party. He's offering them a Ken-only policy. He's a recipe for complete collapse in the Conservative Party. That's what I would call extreme."

A friend of Mr Clarke said: "Anyone who has been with Ken and sees how people he meets want him to win to speed the Party's recovery will find comments that he would destroy the party extraordinary.

Leadership campaigning is suspended for a fortnight, starting on Wednesday.