Strong start, but a weak line-up

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The Independent Online

Iain Duncan Smith made an assured debut as the new leader of the Conservative opposition yesterday. He spoke with statesmanlike restraint, offering his party's support to the Prime Minister in a generous act of bipartisanship. It was particularly welcome that he should have associated himself personally with Tony Blair's declaration that Islam is not responsible for the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

He also showed some political sharpness in congratulating Mr Blair so emphatically on his "unflinching support for the United States", knowing full well that the benches behind and around the Prime Minister are, rightly, a little wary of offering President Bush their unconditional backing before they know how he intends to respond.

That said, however, Mr Duncan Smith's Shadow Cabinet, appointed yesterday, does not look to be the team to pull off an upset victory against Labour at the next general election.

Michael Ancram, the new shadow Foreign Secretary and Mr Duncan Smith's deputy leader, is a safe pair of hands. That phrase, intended as a compliment, is in this case an insult. What the Tory party needs now is some dangerous pairs of hands, someone to quicken the political pulse. In short, it needs to take risks.

The logic of Michael Howard's return to the front bench is obvious: he is perhaps the only Conservative MP not afraid to take on Gordon Brown. He often scored points against Mr Blair when the Prime Minister held the Labour home affairs brief before his election as leader.

The trouble was that the general public never noticed. Mr Howard comes across badly on television and is too much associated with the years of lamentable failure of the later Major government.

Damian Green is a promising appointment at education; David Davis could be a good party chairman; and Oliver Letwin, although he has demonstrated poor political judgement in floating the idea of £20bn public-spending cuts during the election campaign, has some interesting socially liberal ideas as shadow to an instinctively illiberal Home Secretary.

But Eric Pickles, Caroline Spelman, Nigel Evans, Jacqui Lait, John Bercow and Peter Ainsworth are hardly names to make the Labour Party quake with fear. The big names are all on the back benches.

The four token pro- Europeans in the Shadow Cabinet are also far too junior for Mr Duncan Smith to pretend that he has assembled a coalition of all the talents.

If this is anything like the team to be presented as Britain's alternative government at the next election, Labour has a clear advantage in almost every department of state. This cannot be good for our democracy.

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