A former Tory foreign secretary launched a vitriolic attack on Iain Duncan Smith's stance on Iraq yesterday, plunging the party into fresh turmoil just before its annual conference.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind made his criticism in this week's edition of The Spectator magazine, edited by the Tory MP Boris Johnson. The magazine also claimed that Mr Duncan Smith failed to impress grandees at a fund-raising dinner last week and that Michael Portillo has regained his appetite for politics.
With David Davis, the sacked party chairman, seen by his allies as a potential replacement for Mr Duncan Smith, the magazine also claimed that a handful of backbenchers have in the last few weeks consulted the rules on a leadership contest. Signatures from 15 per cent of the parliamentary party – 25 MPs – are needed to trigger a ballot in the Commons before the race would be opened to all 300,000 members in the country.
In his article, Sir Malcolm attacked the Conservative leader's "uncritical and unqualified" support for Tony Blair on Iraq.
Several senior backbenchers have voiced doubts over Mr Duncan Smith's support for the Prime Minister, but Sir Malcolm went further, claiming the Tories were failing to offer any "intelligent criticism" of the Government's plans.
Sir Malcolm said Mr Duncan Smith should have used last week's recall of Parliament to ask why the Prime Minister was so apparently committed to an invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam Hussein's regime and so willing to follow the line taken by President Bush.
For the Opposition to be seen to be "giving uncritical and unqualified endorsement ... is unlikely to enhance its credibility as an alternative and preferable government", he wrote. "Intelligent criticism by the Opposition does not indicate a descent into crude partisanship and party politics but a fulfilment of its constitutional duty."