OPINION: Catch 22 for IDS as he continues to back the war

The Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith not only has a problem with his own Party at the moment - he has difficulty in making himself seem relevant to the rest of us over the war.

Supporting Tony Blair may be the last thing that Tories want to do just now but the Tory Party wouldn't be the Tory Party if it did not back war.

If IDS was opposing Blair's war plans then he would have absolutely no problem in getting the media coverage he so craves. The big downside for IDS is that in backing Blair he has become almost a non-person.

I was speaking to the ex-leader of the Scottish National Party Alex Salmond a few weeks ago, and we were discussing why the SNP lost so badly in the first Scottish Parliament elections. Apart from tax I told him that it was his opposition to the war in Kosovo that turned so many voters off.

Salmond accepted this but he made the very telling point that if you are not in the major story of the day then you become irrelevant. Opposing the war was his way of making headline news.

The Tory leader can't afford to face a total news blackout just now, except over his own leadership, so he has to do anything to get his picture in the papers, even if that means flying off to the war zone to get it.

The difficulty the Tory leader had was that in order get to there he has to have Downing Street permission, and they were hardly likely to help him out. In fact, they told the beleaguered Tory leader that he could go but not open his mouth. He should of course have told Alastair Campbell's man over there, Simon Wren, to get stuffed, which I suppose he did in a way by talking to the hacks, but he should have made more of the Downing Street PR machine's determination to control all the war propaganda.

IDS could have called a press conference back home and told us that he couldn't go to Kuwait because of the Downing Street restrictions. That would have been a real propaganda coup for the Tories. Instead, all we got were a few amusing tales from hacks with nothing better to write about, and a silly picture of the Tory leader with a bemused looking soldier.

In backing Blair IDS deserves better treatment from Downing Street, but he won't get it by being timid - Blair wasn't when he was in opposition.

I remember well the Dunblane tragedy. Campbell didn't wait to ask John Major's permission if it would be alright for Blair to join the Prime Minister in his trip north to show support to the families, he just told him the opposition entourage - including the first lady-to-be - would be going.

The Tory leader may feel restrained because he is backing the war, but he is still leader of the opposition and it is his job to oppose. With a majority of the population sceptical about the war and the fact that it still hasn't officially started, the Tory leader has plenty of opportunities to grab the headlines.

There are hundreds of hacks assigned to cover the war with little to write about and they are desperate for stories - even as trivial as the fact that the army hasn't got enough toilet paper. IDS should be giving the Government a good kicking now because once the action starts no one will be the least bit interested in what he has to say.

For the rest of us, Downing Street has already shown just how far they are prepared to go in winning the PR war by their pathetic attempt to gag IDS. Just think what they will do to those who really oppose them.

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