BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 10.11.02

Film: FILM ON CONSERVATIVES: Martin Popplewell reports on the sense of panic among Conservative MPs about Iain Duncan Smith's performance as leader.

ACTUALITY FROM DAD'S ARMY: Don't panic, don't panic. MARTIN POPPLEWELL: For supporters of the Conservative Party the week has been far from amusing. ACTUALITY FROM DAD'S ARMY: I'm in charge now, I'm in charge now. POPPLEWELL: The Tories have been described as the most successful political party in the Western world, but some observers say their performance this week has more closely resembled a farce. MICHAEL BROWN: Iain Duncan Smith is supposed to be an Army man, but this is more a Dad's Army man and he's going round like Captain Mainwaring stamping his feet and you've got the Corporal behind him saying "don't panic, don't panic". Well, that's not the way to run a serious political party. POPPLEWELL: This time last week there was few signs that the Conservative Party was about stumble into the biggest political crisis since Iain Duncan Smith became its leader. But, by Monday morning, officials here at Conservative Central Office were busy trying to deal with the resignation of John Bercow - a member of his Shadow Cabinet - over the issue of adoption. By that evening more than forty Tory Members of Parliament had failed to vote in support of the party line and the problems for Iain Duncan Smith weren't ending there. When Captain Mainwaring was looking after the Home Guard, homosexuality alone would put you in prison. But, in a sign of how much society has changed, the Adoption Bill, which this week became law, allows unmarried couples, including gays and lesbians, to adopt children. INTRODUCTION TO ADOPTION DEBATE 4th NOVEMBER 3.38 PM: The clerk will now proceed to read the orders of the day. Adoption and Children Bill, consideration of Lords' amendments. POPPLEWELL: The legislation goes to the heart of the debate, dividing the Conservative Party. Some modernisers support the legislation saying the Party needs to represent the Britain of 2002, not 1942. Even more MPs say there should have been a free vote. NIGEL WATERSON MP: Well, I voted with the Party line because that happens to be what I agree with. I think it was inappropriate to have a three line whip. There was a lot of muddle over whether it really was a three line whip or not and I think in retrospect everyone accepts it was a mistake. POPPLEWELL: For many the sense of panic and the bunker mentality was exacerbated by Iain Duncan Smith calling a press conference to make a personal statement. The word resignation was on everyone's' lips. IAIN DUNCAN SMITH MP: Over the last few weeks, a small group of my Parliamentary colleagues have decided consciously to undermine my leadership. For a few, last night's vote was not about adoption, but an attempt to challenge my mandate to lead this party. POPPLEWELL: According to the former MP, Michael Brown, the statement was a tactical disaster. BROWN: This was the week when Iain Duncan Smith, true to form, 397 years to the day, 5 November, after the gun powder plot, that he decided to blow up the Conservative Party, if not the Houses of Parliament, but I don't know whether there are any plots around, if there is a plot, Iain Duncan Smith has lost it. POPPLEWELL: The end result of the week's events is fevered speculation about the leadership of Iain Duncan Smith and his chances of surviving. We've spoken to a number of Conservative MPs who do want a change in the leadership. They believe that more poor performances in the Commons and judgements which produce rebellions like this week's on adoption, could well lead the Conservative Party to adopting a new leader, and now even more MPs are willing to openly call for an improvement in their leader's performance. WATERSON: Well, I think everyone recognises, including Iain, that we've got to do better. He has got to do better personally and I think he has been improved, particularly at Prime Minister's Questions, we all have to do better as a party. We've got to get off this plateau in the low thirties of the opinion polls and I think there have been a couple of stumbles recently, which although blown up out of proportion, I think just remind us that you know he has some way to go before he, before he's battling Tony Blair on equal terms. BROWN: Another gaff could set it all off next week. I mean, he's got a big speech coming with the Queen's Speech, first time he's ever made a response to the Queen's Speech, a big forty minute/forty five minute set piece occasion in the House of Commons, it could be a wonderful oratorical triumph. I'm not holding my breath but it could be and if it is, he could be with one bound free and we would be writing up you know 'on the way to Downing Street', on the other hand he could flop, and if he flops he can't afford to and I suspect that the end could come quite quickly. POPPLEWELL: Some MPs are now risking the political equivalent of a court martial by implying that Iain Duncan Smith is on probation. WATERSON: Well, I don't think in this day and age that any leader can expect necessarily to stay in that role for the whole of a Parliament if progress is not being made. I think it's far too early too early to be talking about any of this, but half way through this Parliament, which coincides to some extent with the May elections, local and other elections, would be a good time to review things. POPPLEWELL: But others who are eager to escape the gloom which still consumes the Conservative Party say the final push against IDS him could even come before May. ACTUALITY FROM DAD'S ARMY: We're doomed, doomed.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.