Tory leader sets plotters deadline
SENIOR Tories in East Anglia last night echoed Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith's call for plotters within the party to "put up or shut up".Mr Duncan Smith yesterday challenged his doubters to force a confidence vote in his leadership by tomorrow evening or "call a halt to this most damaging episode".
By Jonathan Barnes
SENIOR Tories in East Anglia last night echoed Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith's call for plotters within the party to "put up or shut up".
Mr Duncan Smith yesterday challenged his doubters to force a confidence vote in his leadership by tomorrow evening or "call a halt to this most damaging episode".
In a dramatic statement released as speculation continued to rage over a possible challenge, he said that if the necessary 25 MPs had not come forward to demand a vote by then, those planning to oust him should accept defeat.
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"I believe - as the whole country believes - that there has been time enough for 25 MPs to make themselves known," said Mr Duncan Smith.
"So if, by Wednesday night, the chairman of the 1922 Committee is in receipt of 25 names, I will seek to win a vote of confidence in my leadership.
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"Equally, if the 25 names are not forthcoming, I will expect my party to call a halt to this most damaging episode."
Shadow trade secretary Tim Yeo, the Conservative MP for Suffolk South, called for an end to the plotting against Mr Duncan Smith's leadership.
"This has been going on for a long time now and there is no doubt it is causing damage," he said.
"There is a procedure for MPs to force a vote of confidence and if that hasn't happened, they should rally round him. It's time for them to put up or shut up."
Suffolk Coastal Conservative MP John Gummer said it was "quite nonsense" to suggest the party needed a change of leadership.
"I don't think that an argument over leadership would do anybody any good. What we have to do is recognise the party needs to stop warring and start fighting the Labour party, which is doing very badly. We need to get on with the job of providing a proper opposition."
Richard Spring, the Conservative MP for West Suffolk, added: "This needs to be resolved once and for all.
"There will either be a contest or there won't. We've got to get on with it and stop beating around the bush. Mr Duncan Smith is right to make the point."
In his statement, Mr Duncan Smith made clear he would fight any attempt to remove him in a confidence vote.
"Of course, I cannot compel the plotters to quit the field. But I am confident that my Parliamentary colleagues, our party members, and all fair-minded people will insist that my detractors accept that their game is over," he said.
The Conservative leader called on the party to resolve the current uncertainty over his position in an "honourable, honest and open way".
Speculation about his future had undermined the party's conference earlier this month and was "demoralising our party's grassroots and appalling the public", he said.
Reports that he was about to face a challenge had been fuelled by "cowardly" anonymous briefing, he said, inviting any MP who wanted him out to tell him face to face.
"If any colleagues consider me unfit to lead this party, I invite them to come and tell me why," he said.
"So, between now and Wednesday my door will be open to anyone to tell me in person. And then, on Wednesday evening, I will address the meeting of the 1922 Committee."
The chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Michael Spicer, must call a vote of confidence if he receives letters from 15% of the parliamentary party - currently 25 MPs.
Mr Duncan Smith must win the support of a simple majority of those voting in that election to survive. If he lost, he would be barred from taking part in the ensuing leadership election.