I was at the TUC conference in Brighton when the full horror of
events in New York and Washington became clear. Tony Blair made a brief
statement and left. It wasn't long before the delegates decided to
abandon the conference as workers representing firefighters and other
emergency workers realised that hundreds of their US colleagues had
The terrorist outrage is the biggest news event since WWII and the whole
world is focused on little else. It dawned on me the day after the
attacks that the Tory Party was due to announce its new leader the next
day. Few people in the country cared much about that anyway, so who
would care now?
The Tories had a very difficult decision to make but decided to delay
the announcement by 24 hours. Inevitably the result got very little
The announcement was a shambles, with winner Iain Duncan Smith unable to
give us any idea about where the party is going. Ken Clarke made it
clear with his dismissive statement that he would be off to promote
Compare this with the almost regal coronation of Blair when he became
The main problem for Duncan Smith is that for months the Tories have
been tearing themselves apart in the most acrimonious intra-party scrap
since Labour's Tony Benn vs Dennis Healey battle in 1981. Following that
election, Labour spent years in the wilderness and that was despite the
fact that Healey, who won, came from the political centre ground.
Even Duncan Smith would have trouble telling us with a straight face
that he is anything other than on the extreme right of the Tory Party.
It's no coincidence that the man he put up on the Today programme the
morning after his election was Norman Tebbit.
In his usual direct way, Lord Heseltine told us all that if the Tories
elected Duncan Smith they would be putting up the 'closed for lunch'
sign outside Central Office. Nearly all the Labour supporters I've
spoken to agree with Hezza, but two people won't be so complacent. They
are Blair and Brown, who spent too many bleak years in opposition to
dismiss Duncan Smith so lightly. I know he had an open goal but his
first statement to the House of Commons on Friday impressed me and will
be the first time most people will have seen him in action. Duncan Smith
may have been denied the normal PR blitz that comes with a new leader
but first impressions count.
He and his Eurosceptic friends are obsessed with Europe but they have
learned the lesson from the election. So expect to hear Duncan Smith
attack the Government on issues that really matter to the voters. I'm
prepared to give the new man time before judging him.
But I'm not saying that the Tories have any chance of winning the next