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I first came to know Iain Duncan Smith in 2001. I had a junior role in producing that election year's Tory manifesto. IDS would call every day to check that William Hague's pro-marriage policies hadn't been diluted by Michael Portillo's Treasury team. He was Shadow Defence Secretary at the time and had no responsibility for family policy. Nonetheless, he had decided to champion this cause fearlessly.

That fearlessness, learnt on the streets of Ulster where he served as a Scots Guards officer, was evident from his earliest days as an MP. Succeeding Norman Tebbit as MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, he was one of the Maastricht rebels who caused John Major so much grief in the early 1990s. 

Again, in 2001, when he stood as a "no hope" candidate for Tory leader he showed his courage and bloody-mindedness. He stood as the standard-bearer of the Right and defeated Ken Clarke, who represented the Left, and Michael Portillo, who led the party's modernisers. 

His enemies in the party, notably whips from the Major era, plotted his downfall as soon as he won the party leadership. By the time the trigger for a no-confidence vote was pulled, the Conservative whips, who should have been his Praetorian guard, urged IDS to resign to avoid a "humiliating" defeat. He refused and became known as "steel balls" as he fought and only narrowly lost the challenge that quickly led to Michael Howard becoming Conservative leader.

Although the party was performing respectably in opinion polls, Tory MPs felt IDS lacked basic communication skills. Despicably, his opponents used false claims against his wife, Betsy, to bring him down. Howard, in a sign that he may have known much more about the anti-IDS coup than has so far been suggested, refused to take action against those who started the false attacks when he was given the opportunity to do so.

Today, IDS is rehabilitated and the Cabinet colleagues who doubt his determination to pursue welfare reform would be wise to note his rocky rise. When, in 2003, he lost the leadership he didn't take on lucrative directorships (although they were offered) but launched his Centre for Social Justice.

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martin sewell
August 26th, 2010
4:08 PM
Given that IDS has only recently entered Government I find Frank's comment rather lame. The performance is a work in progress, possibly delayed by the empty cupboard left by Labour which has squandered the money which could have been used to implement what IDS - and incidentally Frank Field - assert as necessary to reframe the policy away from the past failed consensus of "more of the same". As this debate continues I predict that "progressives" will rarely acknowledge the good intentions of IDS and similar reformers. " Caring for the poor" is about the only thing left to cover the intellectual nakedness of the Left. If we are able to remove that they will indeed fell embarrassed. This is why the Left will speak of equality for all but there is one equality they will never concede - Equality of compassion for the poor on the part of Conservative thinkers.

August 26th, 2010
10:08 AM
'An aroma of good intentions has lifted entities like Labour, the NHS and the UN much higher than their performances merit.' Exactly how I would describe IDS. Freudian slip, Timmy?

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