Mr Duncan Smith and the strange living death of the Tory party

Related Topics

Of all the anniversaries marked next week, that of the election of Iain Duncan Smith as leader of the Conservative Party is unlikely to attract the most attention. The launch of his leadership was postponed and overshadowed by the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, and he has never really managed to grab the headlines since.

This is despite some thoughtful positioning of his party, showing that he had learnt some of the lessons of his predecessor's failure. He has managed to stop his colleagues talking about their opposition to the euro. He has avoided anti-immigrant rhetoric and xenophobia, taking swift action against any suggestion of racism. Rather astutely, he has shown some interest in continental models of health and education services – thus turning his party outward towards the rest of Europe and at the same time finding footholds from which to attack Labour over the delivery of public services.

This is more than William Hague ever managed in opposing Labour's high-spending, state-centralising instincts. But it has not gone far enough yet. There is a great deal of work to do in setting out a programme for the health and education services that enhance individual liberty.

Much of the past year has been spent trying to set out broad themes and avoid mistakes. Positioning the Tory party as – once again – concerned about the fate of the vulnerable in British society is going to take some time. This week's effort by Damian Green, the education spokesman, to draw attention to the rising numbers of children leaving inner-city schools without any qualifications was a worthy one. The trouble was that his solution – better discipline – is feebly unconvincing.

Tony Blair has offered Mr Duncan Smith few opportunities to strike. One of those has been the Government's difficulties over Zimbabwe, but Mr Duncan Smith has failed to hit home, despite having served in the army there. Equally, he could have performed a democratic service by expressing the case against slavishly supporting US bellicosity towards Iraq. On the other hand, it might have been unwise to play up to the old Tory isolationism in foreign affairs.

Nor is the retrospective comparison of Mr Duncan Smith with Mr Hague all in the new leader's favour. Mr Hague may well have been written off by the British electorate within the first few moments as unserious, forever the teenage politics geek who cheeked Mrs Thatcher and then donned a baseball cap. But at least he is an articulate, witty and patently intelligent public speaker. Mr Duncan Smith's voice – both literally and figuratively – is straight and rather boring. The sense of mischief that used to play around the edges of his persona has been suppressed, partly perhaps because it recalls too much his parliamentary history as a Maastricht rebel.

For the rest, he has avoided serious mistakes – always an underestimated ability in politics – except for the botched demotion of David Davis, his rival for the leadership. And that only matters because the prospect of victory for his party seems as distant as ever. Mr Duncan Smith has got much of the background music right. But he still lacks a main theme.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
With an eye for strategy: Stephen Fry’s General Melchett and Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder  

What Cameron really needs is to turn this into a khaki election

Matthew Norman
An Italian policeman stands guard as migrants eat while waiting at the port of Lampedusa to board a ferry bound for Porto Empedocle in Sicily. Authorities on the Italian island of Lampedusa struggled to cope with a huge influx of newly-arrived migrants as aid organisations warned the Libya crisis means thousands more could be on their way  

Migrant boat disaster: EU must commit funds to stop many more dying

Alistair Dawber
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own