28/10/2003

Tory leader to face confidence motion

They had been told to put up or shut up by Wednesday evening – but by lunchtime today 25 Tory MPs had left the shadows and forwarded their letters calling for a vote of confidence in Iain Duncan Smith's leadership.

For his part, IDS released a statement fulsome in its pleasure at facing the vote ahead. Waxing defiant has been the tone to characterise his troubled reign, but with the party haemorrhaging millionaire donors and MPs ranging in open revolt, this shall be the greatest test of his survival skills.

It is understood the vote will take place at 3.30pm on Wednesday and will close at 6.30pm. The result will be available around half an hour later.

Earlier today IDS said that he was "pleased" that the Parliamentary party had "responded to my call for a swift resolution". He said that he looked forward to addressing the 1922 Committee on Wednesday to make the case for his "continued leadership of this Party".

But Mr Duncan Smith warned that to oust him would rouse the "despair and contempt" of many supporters, and "gravely imperil" the party's prospects at the next election.

"I believe that I have achieved a lot during the last two years. Following a second general election defeat and a divisive leadership contest, the Conservative Party was 20 points behind in the opinion polls. We are now equal with Labour in the polls, and we have become the largest party of local government," Mr Duncan Smith said.

"A vote of confidence in me can maintain the party unity on tax and Europe which we have achieved over the last two years – and ensure that we remain committed to the far-reaching set of policies in health, education, pensions, policing and asylum which we unveiled in Blackpool this month," he said.

Shadow Chancellor Michael Howard and Shadow Deputy Prime Minister David Davis lead the pack, but it is still not clear whether the big beasts of yesteryear – Michael Portillo and Ken Clarke – will run. Former chancellor Ken Clarke has already had to deny a Times report linking him to the leadership.

At the moment, several have ambitions to take up residence at Conservative Central Office but none wish the stain of disloyalty by acknowledging the fact.

It is feasible, if however unlikely, that Iain Duncan Smith could defy the weight of opinion tipping his defeat tomorrow, only to emerge from the confidence vote to face a damaging report from Sir Philip Mawer on the so-called 'Betsygate' affair. But whether he receives those findings as leader or as a backbencher will become apparent tomorrow night at 7pm.

(gmcg)

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