Britain: Is IDS a Leader-in-Waiting?


Iain Duncan Smith, the 57-year old Conservative Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in the current Coalition, shot up two places to No.13 in this year's Telegraph 'Top 100 most influential people on the Right', with the paper claiming:"Last year we said that IDS seemed to have won a battle with George Osborne (the Chancellor of the Exchequor) over welfare reform, and now would come the hard part – implementing it. Turning round the oil tanker was never going to be easy but IDS seems ready for the battle and has scored some big successes."

IDS led the Conservatives 2001-3, but never gained traction with the electorate. After an expenses scandal he was replaced by Michael Howard, and returned to the backbenches. When new Leader David Cameron invited IDS back into the inner circle, he readily jumped at the challenge. And has found his feet fast. Now, the BBC reports IDS has " refused to deny he threatened to resign in the aftermath of Monday's Commons vote on an EU referendum." Typical. But what an opportunity.

In the event, 81 Tories backed calls in the Commons for a referendum.  Could IDS offer himself as their champion? He has "rebelled over Europe in the past" reminds the BBC, of a time when John Major was PM. And these MPs need a figurehead and leader.

UKIP (with MEPs in Europe, but no Westminster representation), together with Conservative Westminster- and Strasbourg-based Europsceptics, constitute a formidable political force. Present UKIP leader Nigel Farrage is unlikely to be taken too seriously by those outside his party's set of core voters. And Conservative Eurosceptic ranks are populated by the typically intelligent yet cabinet inexperienced. So, IDS could bring gravitas, public profile and governing experience to the table in any future re-alignment in loyalties.

If a schism were to ultimately occur, could IDS be coerced into joining it? Very possibly, the temptation would be massive, and the rewards in terms of influence would be tantalising for a leader who operates now in a party led by someone else. Along with other Tory Eurosceptics, could IDS join and this bid for the leadership of UKIP?

Update 22 November 2011: Or will Farage's new found popularity ensure he holds on to his job? What's certain, it seems to me, is that there would more than one British politician capable of leading a popular Eurosceptic movement.

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