Tory activists angry at IDS coup

IAIN Duncan Smith's leadership of the Conservative Party appears to be at an end. But as at least 25 MPs call for a vote of confidence which he is unlikely to survive, EADT Political Editor GRAHAM DINES talks to Tory activists, angry they have not been consultedTHE dismal state of the Conservative Party can be summed up in one statistic.

IAIN Duncan Smith's leadership of the Conservative Party appears to be at an end. But as at least 25 MPs call for a vote of confidence which he is unlikely to survive, EADT Political Editor GRAHAM DINES talks to Tory activists, angry they have not been consulted

THE dismal state of the Conservative Party can be summed up in one statistic. Of mainland Britain's 640 parliamentary constituencies, only 166 have Tory MPs

That's 474 seats – from St Ives in Cornwall to Berwick-on-Tweed, from Orkney & Shetland to Dover, from Carlisle to Battersea – where Conservative Party members and activists have no voice in the future of Iain Duncan Smith.

There are more than 330,000 Tory Party members, far more than the dwindling number of paid-up Labour supporters and dwarfing those the Liberal Democrats can muster, and around half are to be found in seats where the Tories were kicked out in the 1992 and 1997 defeats – or indeed areas where there has never ever been a Conservative MP.


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But it was these people who voted for Iain Duncan Smith in the leadership election of September 2001 and they are now being denied a say in his future.

Many are angry at what's going on in Westminster. They are unimpressed by Tory MPs who claim – mostly under the cloak of anonymity – that they no longer have any confidence in IDS's ability to win the next election.

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The membership may have elected him but the odds on IDS convincingly surviving this afternoon's vote of no confidence are dwindling by the hour.

There are three possible outcomes this afternoon. He wins an overwhelming endorsement and claims victory; he wins narrowly and becomes a lame duck if not fatally wounded; thirdly, he loses and is humiliated.

And so, after weeks of plotting and dark rumours surrounding his leadership, culminating in a crisis that shook this month's Conservative Party conference in Blackpool to its foundations, the day has arrived when MPs have to finally reveal their hand.

But it seems Conservative Party members are sticking loyally with their leader. And in the 474 mainland seats with no Tory MP, they are angry that Conservative Central Office has totally ignored them.

John Evans, the constituency chairman in Harwich where more than 30 new members have been signed up since the summer, says he is "totally and utterly frustrated" by the plotting at Westminster.

Harwich is a crunch seat for the Conservatives. Labour has a slender majority of 2,596, vulnerable to a swing of 2.71% and there is an insignificant Liberal Democrat vote.

"I have not been consulted by Conservative Central Office," complains Mr Evans. "The only people who seem to matter are our MPs and their constituency associations."

Mr Evans said that at the time of the party conference, a national newspaper opinion poll showed a 9% swing away from Labour – more than enough to see Tory candidate Douglas Carswell elected.

"Conservative Party members voted for Iain Duncan Smith in the first democratic election we have ever had. Now we are being ignored.

"The plotting MPs claim IDS is not a strong personality and has made little impact. But it takes time to bed down.

"These MPs are making it extremely difficult for Conservative associations to keep morale up and also raise money needed to fight elections."

Mr Carswell himself believes it is "outrageous" that a few MPs have taken it upon themselves to try to overthrow IDS. "I have no influence over what is going on at Westminster, but those involved are badly letting down myself, and the members in Harwich."

Ipswich Tory chairman Jeffrey Stansfield said nobody from Central Office had bothered to ask for his opinion. "I think constituency chairmen should be consulted – after all, it was the membership that put IDS into office.

"So Iain Duncan Smith does not possess the charisma demanded of `celebrity addicts' – but neither did Harold Wilson nor Clement Atlee. It's the policies that matter, not the spokesman, and we have some really good policies.

"I hope he wins the confidence vote today and leads us into the next election."

Those 166 constituencies which are held by the Tories have been consulted by their MPs. Bury St Edmunds chairman Eric Flack made it known to his MP David Ruffley that he was than impressed at the shenanigans taking place at Westminster.

"Some of my people are jumping up and down at what is happening – there are many unhappy people here," says Mr Flack, whose constituency party has more than 800 paid-up members.

"The party has come up with a whole range of new policies and yet these have been completely overshadowed by the plots."

After watching IDS's defiant performance outside Central Office yesterday, Mr Flack said: "He is a decent and honourable man. But I believe he is too badly damaged to win tonight's vote."

Although the anger being felt in the voluntary party should properly be directed at William Hague, the man who drafted the complex election rules, MPs are unlikely to change what they see as their divine right to be able to sack a leader with whom they cannot work or whom they think is damaging the party.

If Iain Duncan Smith is felled tonight, it will because the Tories' big money donors – those prepared to give £5million of their own fortunes to prop up the party – were unhappy at the party's lack of progress and have said they won't give any more while IDS is leader.

Who carries more weight: a handful of activists who raise £30 once a quarter at bring-and-buy sales or big money donors? In these days of money matters, the rank-and-file pale into insignificance.

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