Inquiry will expose party's conflicts

Share
Related Topics

Iain Duncan Smith is fighting for his survival as Opposition leader on two separate fronts. He is obliged to defend himself against charges that he paid his wife for secretarial work she didn't do, just as the political ferment against him in the Tory party reaches a new climax.

On one level the announcement by Sir Philip Mawer that he is to open a formal investigation into the charges is much less sensational than the headlines it has generated suggest. No one in Westminster expected Sir Philip to dismiss as too frivolous to examine the charges made by as serious and experienced a journalist as Michael Crick.

And as Sir Philip himself said, the existence of the investigation does not imply he has taken a view as to guilt or innocence.

Instead the inquiry introduces an unpredictable new element into the so-far only indirectly related groundswell of dissent among Tory MPs about his leadership.

At the very least the inquiry is likely to expose some of the undercurrents of conflict at Conservative Central Office from which the original charges appear to have emanated. If Sir Philip were to find against Mr Duncan Smith, it would probably do serious, perhaps fatal, damage to his reputation, given the Tory leader's prominence - even though the practice of paying MPs' wives from public money is widespread.

If the backbenchers who sit on the Standards and Privileges Committee were to accept Sir Philip's recommendation and propose a penalty (not a foregone conclusion) how Mr Duncan Smith could survive is hard to see.

On the other hand, if he is exonerated, it's possible his position could be strengthened, especially if the anonymous figures among the critics who have fuelled the charges fail to come forward, as Sir Philip warned yesterday they would have to do.

The most surreal aspect of the crisis, however, is that the intrigue and gossip among MPs over Mr Duncan Smith's leadership continued yesterday without much attention being paid to the investigation. One prominent backbencher said the chances of finding the 25 names needed to trigger a confidence vote had risen from less than 50-50 to slightly more than 50-50.

But two problems still confront the critics. One is that whatever doubts MPs have about the Tory leader's speech to last week's party conference in Blackpool, it appears to have gone down well with many of the party faithful, provoking some constituency chairmen to urge dissident MPs to proceed with caution. The other is the difficulty of agreeing an alternative candidate. If a majority of plotters favoured Michael Howard, that would not necessarily stop David Davis from standing, given that he might beat Mr Howard in a run-off among party members.

Sir Philip's investigation is likely to take several weeks. If the momentum for a leadership challenge is not to peter out, it will probably have to produce a decisive move to a confidence vote before then. If it doesn't, then the threat might not come back for many months, if at all before the election. Unless of course, Mr Duncan Smith falls foul of Sir Philip.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
 

Never underestimate the power of the National Trust

Boyd Tonkin
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss