The Tory torch is shining dimly

IAIN Duncan Smith has had to make a frantic telephone call to Tory Party chairman Theresa May to assure her that there's no truth in the rumours that she is about to be sacked.

IAIN Duncan Smith has had to make a frantic telephone call to Tory Party chairman Theresa May to assure her that there's no truth in the rumours that she is about to be sacked.

Mrs May, who is holidaying in Italy and Switzerland, was told the Tory leader is determined to end the "sniping" against her of recent weeks.

The first woman chairman in the party's history has earned the wrath of traditionalists for her emphasis on an inclusive agenda – the need to recruit more black, gay and female candidates to fight winnable seats. And they didn't like her dramatic speech to last year's party conference when for once the 2,000 Tories gathered in Bournemouth were told the unpalatable truth – that many people saw them as "the nasty party."

Yet Mrs May cannot escape the criticism from party modernisers that under her stewardship, the Conservatives seem lax about preparing for the General Election. Before the 2001 contest, former leader William Hague authorised a strategy of targeting the marginals by ensuring Tory MPs were twinned with key seats, offering help and advice to candidates and activists. For example, Suffolk South's Tim Yeo concentrated on Harwich with Suffolk West's Richard Spring was highly visible in Derbyshire,

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Although this strategy turned out to be a miserable failure because of Labour's landslide, that did not make it wrong. And with the Tories now ahead in the polls, it would seem sensible to invoke it again as soon as possible.

Indeed Mr Yeo – who could yet replace Mrs May at Central Office and who almost certainly would have been party chairman had Michael Portillo become Tory leader two years' ago – has called for the Tories to home in on key seats with "laser-like" intensity. "In the end, that's where votes are needed," he says in perhaps the under statement of the summer.

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While on the subject of the key seats, there is a strange silence from the candidates already chosen by the Conservatives to fight Braintree and Harwich. Neither Brooks Newmark (fighting a Labour majority of 358 in Braintree) nor Donald Carswell (Harwich, Labour lead 2,596) are hitting the headlines.

Opinion polls show that the Labour Party has lost the respect and the trust of the voters – if the Tories want to fill the void, they've got to start doing some hard work. The Liberal Democrats have put Tory front bench spokesman to shame this past week by ensuring their spokesmen are on the radio and in the newspapers every day. The media can't report Tory silence, except in a negative and critical way.

IN the recall gubernatorial election in California, Republican candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger leads the long list of hopefuls, with 42% of poll respondents saying there is a good chance they would vote for him.

Of course, the intellectual and political elite in the UK sneer at the Terminator entering politics, but perhaps our parties might start re-engaging with the electorate if they had respected names from the entertainment industry in leading positions. The endorsement of David Beckham would be priceless.

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