Pre Tory Leader
Born on the ninth of April 1954 in Edinburgh, Iain Duncan Smith was educated at Dunchurch College of Management before joining the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. From there he journeyed to Perugia, Italy where he attended the Universita pre Strandieri. At this time the university did not offer degrees, and whilst some students did leave with diplomas, Iain did not stay long enough to finish his exams. Returning to Britain, Iain was commissioned into the Scots Guards and saw active service in Northern Ireland, what was then Rhodesia, Canada and Germany.
In 1971 Iain left the army and joined GEC-Marconi an aerospace company, before leaving to work for the property company, Bellwinch. Leaving there, he was accepted onto the board of Jane’s Information Group, a publishing company, where he “learned the difficulties of running a business." Iain married his wife Betsy in 1982 and fathered four children, two sons and two daughters.
After joining the conservative party Iain was elected to parliament as MP for Chingford in 1992, and, in 1994 was one of the rebel MPs who sought to bring down the then leader and prime minister, John Major. In 1997 he was re-elected with a 7.4% majority to the re-drawn constituency of Chingford and Woodford Green. Under the new leader, William Hague, IDS was promoted to the shadow cabinet as Secretary of State for Social Security and attempted to expose gaps in Labour’s policies of social reform. In 1999 he was promoted to Shadow Defence Secretary and was often heard arguing that the “government is not giving British forces in Europe the right funding and equipment”.
The Tory Leader
In 2001 the Conservatives suffered another Labour landslide and William Hague made the decision to step down as party leader. In the leadership battle that followed, the three major contenders were Michael Portillo, Kenneth Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith, Portillo being the favourite followed by Clarke. In a shock result Portillo was voted out of the contest, leaving the liberal and pro-Europe Clarke and the more traditionalist and Euro-sceptic Duncan Smith. Although Clarke was believed to be ahead, the vote amongst the party faithful (Tory Party members) cast Iain Duncan Smith as the new leader. He was aged forty seven, thirteen years below the average age of his MPs.
The result of the vote was due to be announced on September Eleventh but due to the attacks on New York and Washington, the announcement was postponed until the thirteenth. Unfortunately for him, this led to a lack of exposure, the news being dominated by speeches given by the American President and Tony Blair. In fact it was not until tenth of October that he made his first speech, declaring that the party must stick to its values if it was to win back the people of the country. His last memorable act of 2001 was declaring that he was not overly confident about winning the next general election.
May 2002 saw the Tories making modest gains in local council elections, gaining a total of nine councils. This was better than a loss, but Michael Ancram, a prominent front-bencher described the performance as womanlike, naturally this comment did not help to boost the feminist image that the party was, amongst other modernisations, trying to create. The next month a Tory strategist decried the party as being “less popular than the Euro.” Duncan Smith did not respond to such criticism, preferring instead to ignore it and carry on as he had been.
The next major incident took place in July, when IDS sacked David Davis as Party Chairman. Davis and Duncan Smith had been at odds since the previous year, this stemmed from the fact that Davis had run against Duncan Smith in the leadership battles but had lost out early on. So as not to seem petty, the Party Leader gave Davis the job of shadowing the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, which, although a front bench position, carries little prestige. That said, the sacking of Davis has been labelled as Duncan Smith’s first major mistake.
October saw Theresa May the new Party Chairman (a title she chose herself), referring to the Conservatives as The Nasty Party. It also saw Duncan Smith make his speech in which he warned the government not to "underestimate the persistence of the Quiet Man” a nickname he deserved up until the 2003 party conference.
On the fourth of November the front-bencher John Bercow resigned over the party’s very conservative policy on Homosexual rights to adoption. This lead to a further rebellion of MPs including Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo and left Duncan Smith looking undermined and weak. Attempting to bring the rest of his party together, IDS told gave a speech in which he declared that they must “unite or die.” It was at this point that some journalists began to speculate that he might not last until the next election; such rumours were overshadowed, however, by the rising issue of Iraq.
With the Iraq issue gathering pace, Iain tried to rally his party into giving full support to military action. This unfortunately lead to claims that he was just following Labour. This was not un-true, since Tony Blair was attempting the same thing with his party, with markedly less success. During the conflict Mr. Duncan Smith attempted to bolster his public issue by giving interviews to News 24, the BBC’s news channel that was running a near 24-hour special on the war. IDS attempted to play on his experiences as an ex-soldier, insisting that he knew what it was like for men serving out there and trying to rally support from the slim majority that backed the troops.
On the first of May the Tories surprised critics by making significant gains in local council elections, gaining thirty councils. However, on the same day, the front-bencher Crispin Blunt called for a leadership election. This action prompted a little more speculation about IDS’s shelf life as leader. Matters were not helped by the Conservative chief Executive, Barry Legg’s resignation a week later.
August and September were filled with the row over weapons of mass destruction which lead to the death of Doctor David Kelly. During the enquiry that followed, Mr Duncan Smith made a speech to the House of Commons that claimed that no-body believed a word that Tony Blair said. Although this might have been true, the Brent East by election showed that whilst support for Labour might be ebbing, voters were not defecting to the Tories, they were defecting to the Lib Dems. There followed scenes of a jubilant Charles Kennedy with Tony Blair and IDS looking slightly perturbed.
After Tony Blair succeeded in convincing his party that he was still a good leader, the pressure was really on Iain Duncan Smith to do the same for the Conservatives. To be fair he did perform well, telling those against him “don’t work for Tony Blair, get on board or get out of the way, for we have work to do!” Unfortunately, despite seventeen stage-managed standing ovations, the speech did not convince many of the Tory backbenchers who decried his “quiet man turning up the volume” stance, believing it to be fake. IDS also found himself treading dangerous waters when he called the Prime Minister a liar, something which is very taboo in British politics.
In an attempt to divert attention away from leadership issues, Mr. Duncan Smith introduced some new vote-catching policies, including scrapping university tuition fees, and very tough policies on immigration. Unfortunately, as interviewers such as Jeremy Paxman pointed out, he did not know exactly how he intended to pay for their implementation, especially since he was planning on cutting taxes.
As October wore on, Duncan Smith’s position began to weaken, as talk of a backbench rebellion began to leak into the press. Several MPs were rumoured to have sent letters to the 1922 committee, demanding a vote of confidence in their leader. On the thirteenth of October a parliamentary enquiry was launched into IDS’s employment of his wife as his secretary. It became clear that Duncan Smith was in real trouble when he began an unusual run of interviews and press conferences in which he attempted to talk about the policies he intended to introduce. Unfortunately for him, no-body wanted to listen, this was especially clear when he pleaded with the press to please ask about conservative party policy and not the leadership and found himself being asked “Mr. Duncan Smith, how frustrating is it when you want to talk about policy, all anyone wants to know about is the leadership?” there followed what one newsreader described as “a prime example of a fixed grin” from the Tory leader.
The crisis seemed to come to a head when it became known that a senior whip had advised Mr. Duncan Smith to call for a vote of confidence. This triggered both a pledge from the party’s senior donor not to give any more money whilst IDS was leader, and a fortnight of frantic speculation on behalf of the press as to whether the twenty five names required to trigger a vote would be submitted to the 1922 committee. For a long while it appeared that only around sixteen MPs were willing to commit regicide, a lot of so-called “rebel MPs” claiming that “IDS has no chance of lasting more than a fortnight,” and that “we should get a new leader,” but when pressed being forced to admit that “no, I haven’t sent a letter, but a lot of reporters have told me that other people have.”
Finally, on the twenty eighth of October, it became clear that the twenty-five names had been submitted and a vote of confidence was to be held the next day. Never the less Mr. Duncan Smith remained upbeat, when asked who would be leader the day after the vote he replied, “I will.” The day being a Wednesday, the Tory leader was compelled to speak during Prime Minister’s questions, and, when he rose, a loud cheer was heard. It was unfortunate for him that the cheer was from mischievous Labour MPs, and not from his own side. He left the commons to chants of “bye bye.” It really does amaze me sometimes how childish the house of commons can be.
Really the result appeared to be a foregone conclusion, at most bookkeepers Mr. Duncan Smith was odds on to lose, and there were rumours that Michael Howard, someone who Anne Widdecombe had said had “something of night about him,” had already began planning his drive for the leadership. Once the votes were counted, Iain Duncan Smith had gained seventy-five of the eighty-three votes he needed to stay in power, ninety MPs voted against him.
In a statement he said; "I will not publicly choose between the candidates in the coming election, but I am going to defend the policies that my shadow cabinet have developed. Although I will not be the prime minister of the first Conservative government of the 21st century - I believe I have provided its policy agenda.”
Or is it...?
It is now seven years since I submitted this writeup. A lot has happened in that time. Of critical importance is the fact that the Conservative party is now back in government, albeit in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. In David Cameron's new government, Iain Duncan Smith has found a position as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions following his wilderness years as chairman of the Campaign for Social Justice. He is widely recognised as the architect behind the sweeping reforms of the benefits system proposed by the new government. It remains to be seen how successful these will be and how long he will remain in this post. Initial reactions however have been positive for IDS and it may well be that he has found his niche.