Norris to pay for saying new leader is 'on probation'

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Indy Politics

Iain Duncan Smith sought to stamp his authority on the Conservative Party yesterday when he slapped down speculation that he was "on probation" for two years and could be ousted before the next general election.

The new Tory leader rebuked Steven Norris, a leading moderate, who is to be sacked as a party vice-chairman after warning that thousands of members could quit the party if it lurches to the right.

Mr Norris said in a newspaper interview that "if he [Mr Duncan Smith] drags the party off to the right, then I and thousands of supporters will go. He is on probation, if you like."

Yesterday, Mr Norris played down his remarks, insisting that he did not regard the new leader as being on probation and dismissed an SDP-style breakaway by Tory moderates.

However, he warned that Mr Duncan Smith would have a "tough job" because a third of Tory MPs and 39 per cent of party members did not support him in last week's leadership election. "That is a very worrying thing," he said. "The first thing Iain has got to do is to get over that pain. He has to engage in a process of reconciliation."

Mr Norris, who backed Michael Portillo's leadership bid and switched to Kenneth Clarke when he was eliminated, said he would help Mr Duncan Smith in any way he could. But his comments angered the new leader and Mr Norris will not retain his position as a vice-chairman when party officers are announced this week.

A spokesman for Conservative Central Office said yesterday: "The vast majority of the Conservative Party has united under the leadership of Iain Duncan Smith and put the divisions of the leadership contest behind them. We hope that Steve Norris is among them."

The clash with Mr Norris was the first test of Mr Duncan Smith's authority as party leader and the mood inside the Tory party remains fractious after a divisive leadership contest. Although supporters of Mr Clarke have pledged to rally behind the new leader, they are alarmed that several senior positions in his Shadow Cabinet have gone to Eurosceptic allies.

Concern among Tory moderates will be heightened today when another right-winger, Eric Forth, will be named as the new shadow Leader of the Commons. David Maclean, who played a key role in Mr Duncan Smith's leadership campaign, has already been appointed Chief Whip, and David Davis named as Tory chairman.

So, Eurosceptics will hold the three key party management posts as well as the top three Shadow Cabinet posts of shadow Chancellor (Michael Howard), shadow Foreign Secretary (Michael Ancram) and shadow Home Secretary (Oliver Letwin). Allies of Mr Duncan Smith insist he has formed a balanced team that includes MPs who backed Mr Clarke and Mr Portillo for the leadership.

Mr Duncan Smith had intended to make moderate Damian Green (education) and Liam Fox (health) his first Shadow Cabinet appointments to highlight that public services are his top priority. But the terrorist attacks in America and the recall of Parliament last Friday forced him to fill first the foreign, home affairs and defence posts.

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