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issue 60, October 2001

Who is Iain Duncan Smith?

    Return of the Chingford Skinhead
    Prospects for the Tory Party

The Tory leadership election was completely overshadowed by events in the US. Yet the result announced a day late on 13 September - a decisive victory for the party's Thatcherite rightwing - will have far-reaching effects on British politics, argues LYNN WALSH.

THE BALLOT OF Conservative Party members resulted in a decisive victory for the right-wing, Thatcherite Iain Duncan Smith (aka IDS) over the 'One Nation', 'liberal' Kenneth Clarke. The choice presented to the Tory ranks, Duncan Smith or Clarke, was the result of the first stage of the election procedure, an exhaustive ballot of the 166 Tory MPs to select two candidates from amongst the original five contenders.

All of them, apart from Michael Portillo and Kenneth Clarke, were firmly on the right of the party. At the start of the contest, Portillo was the frontrunner, and clearly the favourite amongst the media. But the 'modernisation' agenda of Portillo, a former Thatcher acolyte, was clearly too radical for most Tory MPs. They were well aware that he would get nowhere with the Tory ranks who would ultimately decide the outcome. Portillo got 50 votes on the first round, but was subsequently eliminated. David Davis, a former Europe minister, and Michael Ancram, party chairman, were also eliminated. This left IDS and Clarke, who in contrast to IDS appeared to stand on the Tories' liberal wing. In reality, the electorate of 250,000 to 300,000 party members (average age 65, with only 5% under 35 years of age) had a choice between a right-winger and an extreme right-winger. There was a 78% turnout. Sixty-one percent (155,933) voted for Smith, 100,864 for Clarke.


Moving quickly to appoint a new parliamentary leadership, IDS claimed that the new shadow cabinet represented 'a broad spectrum of the party'. In fact, Thatcher's current favourite has appointed the most right-wing leadership in Tory history, dominated by reactionary, nationalistic euro-sceptics. One Tory MP who preferred to remain anonymous said they were 'the nasty, hard-right'.

Those best known to the public, like Michael Howard, now shadow chancellor, are still widely reviled for the reactionary role they played in the Thatcher and Major governments. IDS has brought in two of his rivals in the first-stage parliamentary ballot: Michael Ancram (a wealthy Tory aristocrat) as deputy leader and shadow foreign secretary, and David Davis as party chair. Some of the lesser known figures are even more right wing. Oliver Letwin, for instance, now shadow home secretary, was the one who during the general election campaign blurted out the Tory right's real project: a £20 billion cutback in public spending to provide for tax cuts to the rich. Bill Cash, perhaps the most fanatic euro-phobe in parliament, who advocates British withdrawal from the European Union, is now shadow attorney general. Even his best friends regard him as a head-banger.

Only one of Clarke's supporters gets a position, with Quentin Davies appointed as shadow Northern Ireland secretary. IDS boasts that he favoured eight Portillo supporters but he has not given positions to the most prominent, Francis Maude and Archie Norman. In any case, some of the Portillistas themselves have an extreme right-wing antecedence, like John Bercow, now a shadow treasury minister, who was a former member of the right-wing, racist Monday Club. One former senior Tory minister (anonymously) commented: "This is the first time the guttersnipe tendency has taken control of a major British party". (Guardian, 20 September)


Events in the US have put things on hold for a period, but this Thatcherite triumph is a recipe for turmoil and splits.

top     Return of the Chingford Skinhead

WHO IS IDS? Before the leadership election he was virtually unknown outside Westminster. Where did he spring from? Unburdened by charisma, he undoubtedly has an impeccable Tory background. The son of a second world war Spitfire pilot, IDS was an officer in the elite Scots Guards. He married the daughter of an aristocrat, a big landowner in Buckinghamshire, and sends his son to Eton. In 1981 he left the army and went to GEC Marconi, as an international arms salesman. Through this he got to know right-wing military strategists now back in the Pentagon, as well as ideologues of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. He left Marconi in 1988, just before a scandal blew up about the company making excessive profits from government contracts.

IDS switched to property speculation (which was unsuccessful) and at the same time moved into Tory politics. A prominent sponsor was Grant Howard, a wealthy businessman closely associated with Enoch Powell, the notorious West Midlands MP who stirred up racial hatred in the 1970s. Many of IDS's quietly growing retinue came from the Monday Club, a right-wing, ultra-nationalistic, racist clique within the Tory Party.

In 1992 IDS entered parliament as MP for Chingford, formerly held by Norman Tebbitt, the original 'Chingford Skinhead' who long played the role of Thatcher's head cheerleader and political bovver boy. Handing over his seat to IDS, Tebbitt said: 'If you think I'm rightwing, check out this man'.


A former fellow officer who served with IDS in Zimbabwe (when it was Southern Rhodesia) commented that IDS was 'not marked out for the highest ranks'. A senior Tory commented: 'He's a nice chap - an army officer, with all that implies'. Another Tory commented: he is 'not the sharpest knife in the drawer'. A former GEC Marconi colleague said that IDS was 'not in the high-flyer category'.

Yet this lacklustre character has now emerged as the Tories' leader, at least for the time being. A crucial ingredient of this rise is undoubtedly his record as a dogged opponent of the euro and further EU integration. Along with Bill Cash, IDS led the 'guerrilla struggle' against the legislation introduced by John Major to comply with the Maastricht Treaty. In other words, IDS has an impeccable record on the fundamental issue currently unifying the Tory right.

During the leadership campaign, IDS briefly flirted with a more 'liberal', 'socially-inclusive' stance. This was perhaps a bit of political wash from Michael Portillo's campaign. In one interview IDS floated the possibility of a 'review' of Section 28 (the notorious anti-gay clause of the Tories' education act, unrepealed by New Labour) and of a debate about the legalisation of cannabis. He soon retreated, however, in response to the hostile reaction from the Tory ranks. On fundamental economic and social issues IDS's policies are to the right of those implemented by the Thatcher government. He favours reducing public spending from 40% of GDP to 30-35%, implying the £20 billion cuts openly advocated by Letwin. He wants a two-tier health service, with government 'credits' which would allow the wealthy to top them up to gain quick access to private treatment. Apart from Europe, this policy was one of the main differences with Clarke, who favours 'modernised', publicly-funded services à la Blair.


Duncan Smith's feeble attempt to shed his right-wing image was doomed. A row (triggered by a report in the pro-Tory Daily Telegraph) illuminated the virulent racist trend within the Tory Party. It came to light that the vice-chair of IDS's leadership campaign in Wales was one Edgar Griffin, vice-chair of Montgomeryshire Conservative Association. It was well known in Tory circles that Griffin was the father of Nick Griffin, leader of the neo-fascist British National Party (BNP), which had recently been involved in racist attacks in Bradford and other cities. Edgar Griffin's wife, Jean, is a BNP activist who previously stood as a BNP candidate against IDS in Chingford. In the Griffin's front room in Welshpool there is a BNP hotline, answered on at least one occasion by Edgar Griffin.

Duncan Smith instantly dropped Griffin from his leadership campaign, and ensured that he was rapidly expelled from the Tory Party. Edgar Griffin was indignant. He freely admitted that he supports the 'voluntary' repatriation of ethnic minorities and believes that the vast majority of asylum seekers should be deported. He expressed sympathy for the BNP, which he claimed is a 'democratic party'. "The two parties (the BNP and the Tory Party) are almost the same in terms of long-term plans. In terms of the manifestos of the Tories and the BNP, you can hardly tell the difference". (Guardian, 24 August)

A party member for 48 years, Edgar Griffin said: "My views are ordinary Tory views - there is nothing startling or extraordinary about my views. They are simply in line with, frankly, the ordinary common or garden worker in the party". (Guardian, 25 August)


Duncan Smith said that he found the BNP 'abhorrent'. Stephen Norris, Tory candidate for the London mayoral contest last year, appropriately commented: "By their friends ye shall know them. (IDS's) whole stance has made him attractive to just these sorts of people".

In fact, as soon as he entered parliament in 1992, Duncan Smith played the race card, blaming ethnic minorities, rather than Tory cuts, for causing housing shortages. Shortly afterwards, he asked a question in parliament about voluntary repatriation under the 1971 Immigration Act, clearly signalling his interest in the policy advocated by the Monday Club.

top     Euro-feuding

BOTH DUNCAN SMITH and Clarke did their best to avoid publicly discussing Europe, conscious of public weariness at the bitter euro-feud. Europe, however, is the prime issue of political economy dividing the party from top to bottom. The fragile truce was blown apart by Lady Thatcher.

As the ballot papers went out to party members, Thatcher once again asserted her proprietorial rights over the party. She had previously endorsed both Major and Hague as her successors, before turning against them. She now supported IDS as 'infinitely the better leader'. She dismissed Clarke as a has-been who could only lead the party to 'disaster'. In her retirement Thatcher has clearly moved to the right, and reportedly now privately supports withdrawal from the EU, fully in tune with IDS and the Monday Club.


Thatcher's intervention immediately detonated another deadly round of combat, drawing in Major, Heseltine and other former Tory leaders. The main effect was to re-focus public attention on the party's biggest electoral handicap - the poisonous legacy of Thatcher's 18 years of cuts, privatisation, and attacks on workers' living standards, for which the Tories are still hated by a big majority of voters.

Infuriated by Thatcher's intervention, Major countered by denouncing her role in inciting the Maastricht rebels - the 'bastards' led by IDS - to vote against his government. Supporting Clarke, Major warned that IDS's right-wing views would be a serious liability to the Tories. Michael Heseltine, another prominent minister under Thatcher, warned that the Tories would be 'out for lunch' for 15 years if they elected IDS. The days when the Tory grandees loyally maintained a united face in public while stabbing one another behind the scenes have gone forever.

In contrast to Duncan Smith and his coterie, Kenneth Clarke appeared more and more of a 'liberal', or even (as some commentators claimed) a 'left' Tory. True, his views are not very different from those of New Labour, though this is one more measure of how far Blair has shifted the party to the right. Clarke's 18-year record in Thatcher's government, however, speaks for itself - a reactionary home secretary, a pro-business chancellor, not one spark of opposition to Thatcher's anti-working class policies. Clarke is closely tied to big business, reportedly earning over £250,000 a year from his various directorships. These include sitting on the board of British American Tobacco (BAT), even absenting himself on a sales promotion trip to Vietnam at the beginning of the leadership contest. During the campaign, there were renewed allegations of large-scale international smuggling of cigarettes by BAT to avoid tobacco duty in the UK and elsewhere.


top     Prospects for the Tory Party

WHAT ARE THE prospects for the Tory Party under the IDS leadership? The struggle over Europe will undoubtedly continue, and there will also be conflict over IDS's right-wing social and economic agenda. Defections (to the Liberal Democrats or even to New Labour) are possible, as is a serious split. Electorally, it is harder at this point to predict how a more distinctly nationalistic, right-wing Tory Party will fare.

In the short term, a Little England party, openly hostile to publicly financed services for all, reactionary on social issues such as minority rights, will not be able to gain the six million votes needed to defeat Labour. The Liberal Democrats are clearly likely to gain at the expense of the Tories in the next period. In the longer run, however, there is clearly the dangerous possibility that, on the basis of mass disillusionment with Labour, and perhaps with the Liberal Democrats too, the Tories, transformed by IDS into a Little England party, could win wider support in a highly polarised political situation. Under certain conditions Duncan Smith, or a replacement, could develop in a right-wing populist direction, on similar lines to Haider in Austria or Berlusconi in Italy.

The immediate prospect, however, is that Tory support will be further eroded. The mood of society, including sections of the middle class who previously voted for Thatcher, has swung to the left - just as the Tory Party has moved to consolidate the domination of its Thatcherite core. This is recognised by the Tories who supported Portillo or Clarke. Criticising Duncan Smith, Major commented that "reinforcing our appeal to our own supporters on the right... is too narrow and will marginalise us. If we appear to disengage from the centre ground, we will delight Labour and the Liberal Democrats, whom we cannot safely ignore: certainly no Conservative member with a Liberal Democrat on their tail could feel safe". (The Spectator, 25 August)


Clarke himself made a similar point: "If we still look unelectable at the next election... people will look for an alternative government. If the Liberal Democrats conduct themselves as a serious party of opposition and we carry on drifting to the right, they will at last have a very good opportunity". (Financial Times, 22 August)

Some commentators have suggested that Duncan Smith, coming from the right, will be in a stronger position than Portillo and Clarke to move the party towards the 'centre ground'. Roy Hattersley, for instance, suggests that IDS could play the role that Neil Kinnock played in the Labour Party. Elected from the left, Kinnock abandoned his old left baggage and prepared the way, through witch-hunts against the left, for the leadership of Smith and later Blair. Given IDS's character and the Thatcherite hold on the parliamentary party, however, reinforced by the ultra-conservative mindset of the party's ageing membership, a 'Kinnock' role appears somewhat unlikely. Besides, IDS does not have any big battalions, any equivalent of the trade union bloc votes that Kinnock was able to muster for his 'modernising' 'reforms'. Lord (Robert) Blake, a historian of the Conservative Party, and something of a Tory grandee himself, comments: 'If the Conservatives do not get their act together now, they could easily be pushed into third place'. But how can they resolve 'internal wrangles' when the party is fundamentally divided over Europe?

The Liberal Democratic leader, Charles Kennedy, has already issued a call to disenchanted Tory MPs, MEPs and councillors: 'We will offer them a warm welcome'. Both the Portillo and the Clarke camps are denying that there will be defections. But Steve Norris, previously vice-chair of the party (dropped by IDS), predicts that if Duncan Smith takes it "way off to the right I and many thousands of others would leave the party". (Financial Times, 14 September)


The pro-European MP Ian Taylor also denied that he intends to leave: 'I am a Conservative and I have no intention of leaving my party'. Ambiguously, however, he added: 'I profoundly hope my party does not leave me'. This hints that at a certain point Taylor and others would attempt to preserve the 'real Conservative Party' through a separate organisation. Two prominent supporters of Portillo, Francis Maude and Archie Norman, are now seeking big-business finance for a unofficial 'think-tank', in effect a party grouping, to promote Portillo's 'modernising' agenda.

Events in the Tory Party show that, despite New Labour's recent landslide, politics in this country are entering into a very fluid phase. They will become more and more fluid as mass opposition grows to Labour's pro-big business policies during the deepening of the recession.

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