Time to reserve judgement on Tory leader

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

Labour leader.

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


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