OPINION: Only a pragmatic approach can save Tories now

Two ancient and outdated British institutions have been falling apart over the past few weeks, but inevitably it is the monarchy and not the Tory Party that has hit the headlines.

There is no bigger supporter of the Royal Family than Iain Duncan Smith - apart from Tony Blair - and never has IDS had more cause to thank the Palace. As he fights for his political life he has been given a relatively easy time as the tabloids slug it out over Paul Burrell and Royal rape stories.

If the Conservative Party had bothered to appoint a new director of communications, which - astonishingly - it hasn't, then that person would be breathing a huge sigh of relief that the crisis in Buckingham Palace is even greater than that at Smith Square. This should give it more time than it deserves to devise a strategy to save its leader's skin.

The crisis that the Tories find themselves in is, of course, one of their own making, or at least that of IDS's own making. It stems from the leader's amazing political incompetence rather than lack of any spin or feeble PR. A GCSE politics student would not have recommended a three-line whip on the so-called 'gay adoption' bill, but that's what IDS did. A small bit of credit should go to Labour for setting the trap, but even in their wildest dreams the Government strategists did not believe the Tories would fall right in to it. It was the complete failure to understand the Parliamentary Party that landed IDS -In Deep S***.

Having created a crisis in his own leadership IDS needed a plan to get out of it. I remember once taking part in a 'crisis' role-play exercise at Millbank, which was much more dramatic than the BBC drama The Project.

It was obvious that the Tories had never bothered to do the same though, given the number of times they get themselves into a mess. You would have thought such pre-planning would be a priority. Any half-decent PR professional would have told them that when you are in a hole - stop digging. I can't believe that no-one at Tory central office told IDS that his 'unite or die' speech would be derided by the whole media.

My guess is that IDS is, in effect, finished as a leader, even if he does trounce Blair at every Prime Minister's Questions between now and the election. William Hague did that and look where it got him. More crucial than my views though are thatof the Tory MPs, and they think he's finished too. The embattled Tory leader believes that in order to survive all he has to do is appeal to the rank-and-file Tories who elected him. That's why at PMQs he raised the question of Gibraltar with Blair. The Tory activists might like it but the public doesn't give a stuff. Is it any wonder that a Sunday paper's opinion poll had IDS only three points ahead of Basil Brush in the popularity stakes?

The Conservative Party simply has to elect a leader that the country can respect. It should therefore take a leaf out of Labour's book.

One of the most intelligent words Blair ever uttered was in his acceptance speech as Labour leader. They were actually written by an arch Gordon Brown supporter, Douglas Alexander MP.

Blair said: 'I know that you didn't vote for me because you liked me but because you thought that I could win.' This was supposed to be a joke but never has a truer word been spoken in jest.

Unless the Tory activists show the same pragmatism they will replace IDS with David Davis. David Who? If they do that, the Tories will remain in opposition for another decade.

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