Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tory Leadership Rivals Back off to Give IDS Three-Month Respite; Challenges Held off Because of War

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tory Leadership Rivals Back off to Give IDS Three-Month Respite; Challenges Held off Because of War

Article excerpt

Byline: PATRICK HENNESSY

BELEAGUERED Iain Duncan Smith today won a threemonth stay of execution as his two main challengers told their troops not to launch an immediate bid to topple him.

Kenneth Clarke and David Davis are understood to have ruled that MPs should wait until after May's local elections before beginning moves to unseat the Tory leader.

They believe the party's image - already beset by intense top-level infighting - - could be damaged beyond all hope of repair by a leadership contest at a time of war with Iraq.

As MPs returned to Westminster today, supporters of either of the pair have been told not to begin the process of finding 25 backbench signatures which would mean Mr Duncan Smith facing a vote of confidence.

Instead, he will effectively be put on probation until the spate of elections in May which include councils in England, the Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly.

The manoeuvring came as Tory chief whip David Maclean hit defiantly back on behalf of Mr Duncan Smith with a blast at Michael Portillo, who on Friday plunged the knife into the leader by accusing him of surrounding himself with talentless people to make himself look good.

Mr Maclean told the Daily Telegraph that Mr Portillo was being "selfish and destructive" and had undermined the Tories' best showing in the polls for a decade.

"What a crazy time to raise the spectre of a leadership challenge," he declared.

He claimed that Tory activists who had been " slogging their guts" out trying to raise support would have been outraged by Mr Portillo's dramatic intervention.

He also offered a doubleedged message of backing by claiming there was "no messiah waiting in the wings who will command more support than Iain".

Some MPs want Mr Duncan Smith and under-fire Tory chairman Theresa May to appear at the regular meeting of the party's backbench 1922 committee on Wednesday. …

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