Do not underestimate this quiet man

IDS is a fighter who has seen off a constant stream of challenges, overt and covert, since he became leader
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Who is afraid of IDS? A great many people, it seems, if you judge by the virulence of the campaign that has been unleashed against him. There are his disappointed leadership rivals of two years ago and their still ambitious coteries. There are the frustrated members of constituency parties who, having voted for him, cannot understand why the party's poll ratings did not immediately soar. And then there is Tony Blair, who found himself in early summer confronting an increasingly adept opponent at Prime Minister's Questions, an opponent whose ever-sharpening jabs were starting to hit home.

Iain Duncan Smith might not be much of a vote-catcher - yet - but it would be a big miscalculation by the party and do a huge disservice to politics in this country if it forsook its leader just as he finally seems to be getting a taste for real opposition. IDS has far more going for him than his enemies would have us believe.

One: He is a fighter and survivor who has successfully seen off an almost constant stream of challenges, overt and covert, since he won the leadership election. The furore prompted by his removal of David Davis as Tory Chairman was nasty and divisive: but who prevailed?

Two: He is loyal to his allies. For all the pundits' ridiculing of his Shadow Cabinet appointments, the majority of those he chose are still in place and doing a competent, in some cases much more than competent, job. Oliver Letwin, Liam Fox, Ms May and Michael Howard come to mind. You may not agree with what they have to say, but they present it coherently and with conviction.

Three: He ordered thorough policy reviews and allowed them the sort of time that is the luxury of Opposition. These are now yielding innovative, modern and acceptably Tory ideas: enhancements in pension provision; law and order made local - in the form of elected police chiefs - and an FBI-equivalent to tackle serious crime; an independent board to manage the health service and take it out of the political arena. Again, these ideas may not appeal to everyone, but they have a simplicity and focus on performance that makes the Blair government's preoccupation with private-public collaboration and statistical targets look bureaucratic and old-fashioned.

Four: The canvassers tell us that Mr Duncan Smith is seen as "boring", "uncharismatic", "lacking in leadership ability" and "quiet" - by which they mean too quiet to get his message across. But such traits are not necessarily liabilities at a time when large numbers of voters have become disenchanted with the smooth-talking charisma of the present Prime Minister, his mantra of "passionate" belief, and the media-trained evasiveness of so many members of his Cabinet. A leader who is perceived - as IDS is - as genuinely sincere, who keeps his family out of the limelight (not only when it suits him) and who speaks only when he has something to say, rather than to keep reminding us double forte of his existence, may be no bad thing. He might, of course, command higher ratings if he were more assertive and could project more human warmth, but this may come with time. The quiet man could do worse than trade on his quietness.

Five: Having supported the Iraq war - which looks in retrospect like a misjudgment, even though it would have been difficult for a Tory leader to do otherwise - Mr Duncan Smith did not have a bad war. He scored points in the Commons when he complained about his limited access to intelligence, forcing an oblique admission from Downing Street that he had not been privy to the second "dodgy" weapons dossier. Mr Duncan Smith maintained a dignified silence over the Kelly affair, which was probably the right thing to do, even though he was criticised for not capitalising on the Government's discomfort. There should be time enough for that, when Lord Hutton reports. With Iraq still in turmoil and the weapons not found, the Tories are shifting into attack mode, accusing the Government of hyping the threat to justify the war.

Finally: Look at the alternatives. What a bunch of yesterday's men the likes of Clarke, Davis and Howard seem now. William Hague is clearly enjoying himself far too much without the leadership to reclaim it now, while the next generation - Letwin, perhaps, excluded - is nowhere near ready for power.

Those now disparaging IDS should revisit history. Margaret Thatcher spent four years as leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. It took more than two of those years for the party's poll ratings to rise to the point where it was seen as electable, and much longer than that for the woman who would go down in history as "the iron lady" to be viewed as a credible leader. Disappointed and impatient though many Tories are, it would be short-sighted for them to write off IDS now. "The quiet man" has hardly had a chance to show what he can do.

m.dejevsky@independent.co.uk

Comments