Iain Duncan Smith, a former captain in the Scots Guards, started his march towards the Tory leadership at 5.30am yesterday, when he began to fine-tune the statement he issued at an 8am press conference at Church House, Westminster.
Now he hopes that a party which has often looked like an ill-disciplined rabble since losing power in 1997 will turn to him in its hour of need. "He knows how to build a team, define a mission and follow it through," said Bernard Jenkin, his campaign manager.
The Sandhurst-educated shadow Defence Secretary urged his party to make a "break with the past" and his allies presented him as a "fresh face for the future". But in this telegenic age, his appearance might count against him. "He looks like Hague's older brother," one opponent quipped.
Uncommitted Tory MPs wonder whether Mr Duncan Smith has the necessary sparkle to enthuse voters who have turned their backs on the party. During the general election campaign, he was markedly less impressive than Michael Portillo when he acted as the warm-up act at William Hague's rallies.
Yet Mr Duncan Smith, 46, is a respected figure at Westminster and, after the aberration of the Major and Hague years, is seen by his followers as the man to restore the glory of the Thatcher era. He will almost certainly win the endorsement of Baroness Thatcher; although her interventions in the general election may have been counterproductive, her blessing in the Tory contest is a plus. The Tory grassroots, who will decide the leadership, still love her and feel guilty about the party's 1990 act of regicide.
Mr Duncan Smith is not seeking a better yesterday and he emphasised the need for the party to change while remaining true to its traditional values. Significantly, he distanced himself from the remarks by his mentor Lord Tebbit who, in an unsubtle reference to Mr Portillo's past homosexual relationships, described Mr Duncan Smith as "normal" because he had children. He made clear he would not play the "family man" card in the election, saying we would not be seeing any photographs of his wife and four children.
Mr Duncan Smith, the MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, made his mark as one of the eight Tory MPs who lost the party whip because of their opposition to the Maastricht Treaty. Now he portrays himself as the man who can unite the party on Europe. He wants Tories to be "friends" who agree to disagree over the single currency but who now pull together in order to oust Labour. "Our job here is to stop finding enemies in our own party," he said.
After joining the Shadow Cabinet in 1997, he won mixed reviews as social security spokesman and was replaced by David Willetts. But he has won plenty of battle honours as defence spokesman, and looked a natural in the post: a steady stream of leaks to him from the Ministry of Defence has enabled him to unsettle the Government.
Whether he can now march beyond his natural territory will be a big test.Reuse content