Duncan Smith drifts to the right

By Andy McSmith,Jo Dillon
Friday 13 December 2013 05:54
comments

Iain Duncan Smith will risk being accused this week of taking the Conservative Party further to the right as he produces some of the "beef" his critics have been demanding.

He will use the Conservative conference in Bournemouth to continue his strategy of challenging Labour on social issues not normally regarded as Tory territory. In the foreword to a pamphlet to be published this week, Mr Duncan Smith will stress that health, education and crime are "our initial priorities".

The solutions he will unveil will rely heavily on privately provided services, rather than on the increased government spending favoured by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

On Wednesday, Oliver Letwin, the Shadow Home Secretary, will set out a "tough love" policy for young offenders, combining harsher penalties with more services to help to rehabilitate them – work that will be left principally to private charities.

Further evidence of a rightward drift in Tory thinking will come in shadow cabinet support for two pamphlets written by the Thatcherite John Redwood, a former cabinet minister, apparently with Mr Duncan Smith's blessing.

One, from the right-wing No Turning Back group, calls for patients to have the option of four-star "pay beds" where they can get such services as hairdressing and digital TV. The second, from the Centre for Policy Studies, argues for state schools to be turned into private companies.

There was a hint of possible tax cuts when Michael Howard, the Shadow Chancellor, told yesterday's Financial Times that it would be "ridiculous" to match every Labour spending pledge.

This prompted the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Paul Boateng, to demand that Mr Howard specify which public services would be cut to facilitate tax reductions.

The week's policy pronouncements may go some way to answering critics who have accused Mr Duncan Smith of offering no alternative to Labour, but they will alarm Tories who think that the party has to rid itself of the image of being the enemy of public services and the party of privatisation.

In an interview for On the Record today, Archie Norman, the Tory MP and former boss of Asda, warned: "We have to establish if we believe that investment in public services, delivered through a reformed public service, which might mean increasing taxation, is something we're prepared to contemplate."

Take our test to see if you are a closet Conservative

As Iain Duncan Smith searches for a new identity, new policies and new supporters for his flagging Conservative Party, The Independent on Sunday wonders which of us are potential members of his constituency. So, how much of a Tory are you?

1) You are at a drinks party with your boss, a loyal friend who has supported you in troubled times, when a rising star in the firm asks you to usurp him. Do you:

a) Indignantly slam down your drink and tell him where to get off, making a mental note to tell your boss about it on Monday?

b) Indignantly slam down your drink and tell him where to get off, secretly signalling him to join you in the gents for a private chat?

c) Slap him on the back, introduce him to your boss, and back them both until it's clear who's going to win?

2) You are invited to become a member of the House of Lords but don't believe in the system, hate the costume, and loathe privilege and patronage. Do you:

a) Politely turn down the offer. There are better ways to engage in public service?

b) Tell the press you are going to turn down the offer then allow yourself to be persuaded to accept – as long as it's fake fur on the gown?

c) Scoff. Are there really people who don't believe in the House of Lords and don't get by on the old school tie?

3) Your elderly mother needs a hip operation but there's a long wait on the NHS. Do you:

a) Tell her to wait and ask for a job lot of painkillers?

b) Tell her to wait but remind her that it will all be different with private managers?

c) Go private. If it's good enough for the Queen Mum and all that?

4) You disturb burglars. They drop the telly, run off and leave you relatively unscathed. When the police arrive, do you:

a) Give them a telling-off for not turning up for two days?

b) Tell them you're upset but comfort yourself with the knowledge that the culprits will be severely dealt with?

c) Blame the "little louts" from the local council estate and buy yourself a shotgun?

5) Your four-year-old is about to start school but results at the local primary are awful. Do you:

a) Know instinctively that little Jimmy will do fine with your support?

b) Move to an expensive house in a leafy cul-de-sac so he can go to another school?

c) Think: "A four-year-old? Is that the little chap I saw with nanny this morning?''

ANSWERS

Mostly As: You are not a Tory. Your responses could be seen to be rational and normal, if a little bit right on.

Mostly Bs: You lean both ways. IDS would be delighted to have you. But don't worry, you would be just as happy in Tony Blair's New Labour Party.

Mostly Cs: You belong to the Conservative old school.

The top image-makers' advice – find some charisma

Interviews by Simon O'Hagan

Tim Bell: Iain Duncan Smith is in a very difficult position because Blair is occupying so much of the middle ground, and much of the opposition comes from the left. There's not a lot the Tories can oppose. Take PFI. If the Tories were honest with themselves, they would agree that public services should be provided by a mixture of public and private finance. And unlike Blair in his conference speech, the Tories never had the skill to say that if people got the services they wanted then they wouldn't care where the money came from. The Tories can learn from the way Labour won power. They could argue that there is a moral duty to remove a party that's ruled so arrogantly.

Lord Bell is chairman of Bell-Pottinger, and was Margaret Thatcher's election adviser.

Julia Hobsbawm: When even the Daily Telegraph is declaring a lack of confidence in Iain Duncan Smith, you realise that the unease has reached critical mass. To some extent they are in a lose-lose situation because despite criticisms of the Government, it remains essentially popular. It comes down to the leadership. A leader needs charisma, and the talk about a charisma by-pass in relation to Duncan Smith is accurate.

Julia Hobsbawm runs communications consultants HMC.

James Thellusson: What is different about the Tories? There are three routes they can go down: 1) to replicate the centre ground, but to be credible; 2) go further to the right, though right now the electorate is not ready to listen; and 3) keep their heads down and wait for events to swing their way. None is easy.

James Thellusson is CEO of the PR company Edelman

Peter York: Tories have repackaged themselves – they're called the Countryside Alliance. New Labour has stolen all the relevant bits of Tory clothing and created what marketing men call a "magic resolution" – a sweet taste and no calories. It's very difficult for the Tories unless they abandon some part of the centre and create distinctiveness. The only way to do that is to go for wilder, woollier issues – the countryside, or race.

Peter York is a management consultant

Ian Wright: Neither William Hague nor Duncan Smith has been able to establish a Conservative agenda. Duncan Smith is not seen as anything like the equal of Blair. So what can he do? He could go on irritating Blair. He could train more fire on Cabinet members. And he couldhope for events to turn his way. Don't forget, the last time the Tories changed leader mid-term was in the run-up to war with Iraq.

Ian Wright is vice-president of the Institute of Public Relations.

Max Clifford: They need to build personalities in order to get people to identify with them. The reason for the success of Blair and Clinton is that the public takes to them. They need to create their own champion – someone the public will trust, respect and like.

Max Clifford is a leading PR consultant.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments