Fowler says Tory infighting is 'doing damage' to party

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Indy Politics

Iain Duncan Smith was urged yesterday to halt the damaging infighting in the Conservative Party by speeding up his plans to unveil its new policies.

Norman Fowler, a former Tory chairman, kept the party's divisions open by hitting back at stinging criticism of Tory aides by Lord Tebbit, a former cabinet colleague.

Lord Fowler warned that the Tories' summer squabbling, set off by the surprise removal of David Davis as party chairman, was "doing us such tremendous damage".

He dismissed Lord Tebbit's calls for the sacking of two senior Conservative Central Office officials, Dominic Cummings and Mark MacGregor, saying party headquarters should not be a "whipping boy" for the Tory difficulties. He denied the party could not recruit high-calibre staff, saying present problems were caused by "this loud internal debate".

Lord Fowler also rejected criticism by the Tory MP Nicholas Soames that the party under Mr Duncan Smith was trying to appeal to women, blacks and gays.

"I don't know quite how exclusive we want the Conservative Party to become," Lord Fowler said. "We are not going to win many elections if we exclude women's interests. We haven't been able to come out of a nosedive that we did through the Nineties. We lost two elections in a row by massive majorities. We still don't seem to actually learn the lesson of it."

Mr Duncan Smith, who has returned from his summer holiday, is under growing pressure to quell the infighting by unveiling new policies on health and education.

The Tory leader has been reluctant to "waste ammunition" by launching policies during the holiday period when many people are abroad or have switched off from politics. But he is expected to tell the party's annual conference in Bourne-mouth in October of plans to give patients and parents more choice by allowing them to shop in the private sector.

Archie Norman, the former shadow cabinet moderniser and former Asda supermarket chief, said yesterday that the party was "half-pregnant on policy". He added: " A lot of people are very impatient with that process. They are right to be impatient because without new thinking we are in danger of looking like of a party of gestures, not new ideas."

Lord Tebbit agreed, telling BBC Radio 4: "A lot of this is arising with us because there is not much to talk about, if one is talking about the Conservative Party at the moment, except this factionalism. The sooner we get a raft of policies coming out, we can talk about the policies."

He renewed his criticism of Mr Duncan Smith's aides, saying the Tory leader should bring "a higher calibre of more experienced people" into Central Office and stop officials criticising the people who appointed them, a veiled reference to the rubbishing of Mr Davis's performance before he lost the chairmanship.

Mark Oaten, chairman of the Liberal Democrats, said: "The Conservative Party is on course for an inevitable and irrevocable split.

"While the Conservatives continue to squabble amongst themselves, unsure of what they stand for or where they are going, the Liberal Democrats are challenging Labour on the undefended centre ground."