Iain Duncan Smith

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Iain Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith

The Right Honourable George Iain Duncan Smith (born April 9, 1954) is a British politician. He is Member of Parliament for the constituency of Chingford and Woodford Green, and was leader of the Conservative Party from September 12, 2001 to November 6, 2003. On October 29, 2003 he lost a vote of confidence in his leadership and stepped down eight days later when Michael Howard assumed the post, being the only candidate.


Early life

Duncan Smith uses the name Iain Duncan Smith and is commonly referred to as IDS. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of the World War II RAF ace Group Captain W. G. G. Duncan Smith by his wife Pamela, a ballerina, whom he married in 1946. Pamela's maternal grandmother was Ellen Oshey, a Japanese woman. Iain Duncan Smith is therefore one-eighth Japanese. He is also a distant relative of George Bernard Shaw, the playwright and pioneer socialist.

Duncan Smith was educated at HMS Conway, a naval training school on the isle of Anglesey, where he played rugby union in the position of fly-half alongside Clive Woodward at centre, and later at Sandhurst military college. He then joined the Scots Guards in 1975, serving for six years including a spell in (then) Rhodesia and in Northern Ireland.

On leaving the Guards, he joined the Conservative Party and also began to work for GEC in 1981. He married Elizabeth "Betsy" Fremantle, daughter of the 5th Baron Cottesloe, in 1982. He fought his first electoral contest in the 1987 general election. He stood for his current seat (Chingford and Woodford Green) in the 1992 general election, succeeding Norman Tebbit on his retirement.

Rise to political prominence

A fervent Eurosceptic, Duncan Smith was a constant thorn in John Major's side during 1992-7, doing his level best to disrupt Major's pro-European agenda at the time (something that would often be raised during his own leadership when calling for the party to unite behind him). Duncan Smith remained on the backbenches until 1997 when as a supporter of William Hague he was promoted to the shadow cabinet. Hague resigned after being defeated in the 2001 general election, and Duncan Smith was elected leader of the Conservatives over Kenneth Clarke on September 12, 2001. Duncan Smith was initially seen as an outside candidate, but his support was bolstered when Margaret Thatcher publicly announced that he was her preferred candidate. As a mark of respect for the victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the announcement of his win was delayed until September 13, 2001.

Duncan Smith is a Catholic, and his election led to criticism by some anti-Catholic groups of the supposed Catholicisation of British politics (Charles Kennedy of the Liberal Democrats is a Catholic; Prime Minister Tony Blair is married to a Catholic, Cherie Booth, and regularly attends Mass in Westminster Cathedral). Ironically, one of the responsibilities of being Prime Minister, a post sought by all three for reasons unconnected with this role, is the selection of Church of England bishops for appointment by the Queen. There has never been a Catholic Prime Minister, and the Catholic Relief Act 1839 makes it illegal for a Roman Catholic to directly or indirectly advise the Sovereign on appointments in the Church of England.

In 2002, the TV programme Newsnight published allegations that Duncan Smith's curriculum vitae claimed that he had attended the University of Perugia when he had in fact only attended a series of short courses at a language college in the same city.

The downfall of Duncan Smith

Duncan Smith's election as party leader was overshadowed by the events of September 11 which was a halting start to his leadership. Duncan Smith was not a gifted public speaker, seeming to be troubled by a frog in his throat throughout most of his two years as leader (which prompted Private Eye to refer to him incessantly as "Iain Duncan Cough"), and his personality struggling to make an impact in the rowdy atmosphere of Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Few doubted Duncan Smith's decency and honesty but these seemed insufficient virtues for the electorate and polls stubbornly refused to move in a Conservative direction. There were continued rumours of discontent among his backbenchers, not dampened by his warning to his party in November 2002: "My message is simple and stark, unite or die".

The 2002 Conservative Party conference saw an attempt to turn Duncan Smith's lack of rabble-rousing ability with his much-quoted line, 'never underestimate the determination of a quiet man'. Unfortunately the line was as derided as it was admired. The following year, his conference speech appeared to have abandoned this technique in favour of an aggressive hard-man act that few found convincing (even if the loyal party members in the hall punctuated the speech with something like seventeen standing ovations), the main soundbite from the speech being 'the quiet man is turning up the volume'.

Duncan Smith said in December 2002 that he intended to be party leader for a "very long time to come." This did little to quell the speculation in Westminster regarding his continued presence as party leader. On 21 February 2003, the Independent newspaper published a story saying that a number of MPs were attempting to start the process of declaring a vote of confidence in Mr Duncan Smith. Apparently many Conservative MPs considered IDS to be "unelectable" among ordinary voters.

Around this time, Duncan Smith was subject to scathing criticism on the popular British topical news programme Have I Got News For You. In particular, Paul Merton insisted that he was in fact two people, Ian and Duncan Smith: the first twins to share joint leadership of a major British political party.

These worries came to a head in October 2003. For a vote to occur, 15 percent of Conservative MPs (at this point 25 MPs) had to write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee demanding the vote. On 26 October, amid mounting claims that the threshold of 25 was about to be reached, Duncan Smith made an appearance on television daring his opponents to show their hand by the evening of October 29, or to withdraw their challenge. He also stated that he would not step down if a vote was called. Over the next two days a few prominent Conservative backbenchers confirmed to the press that they had sent letters.

By 28 October, 25 Conservative MPs had indeed demanded the vote. After this was announced, Duncan Smith made an appearance in front of Conservative Party headquarters in Smith Square, where he stated that he was going to "absolutely" contest the vote. The vote of confidence was held on 29 October. Duncan Smith lost, 90-75.

Since 2003

Since he fell from office, he has established The Centre for Social Justice (http://ss46.shared.server-system.net/~admin145/centre.php), a centre-right thinktank which aims to work to solve the problems facing Britain's inner cities. He was re-elected comfortably in Chingford and Woodford Green at the 2005 General Election, almost doubling his majority, and remaining a backbencher for the Conservative Party.


According to the faxyourmp.com website, which monitors MPs' replies to faxes and emails from their constituents, Duncan Smith rates last on their list, with no replies to a total of 17 messages sent.

See also

External links

Preceded by:
William Hague
Leader of the British Conservative Party
Succeeded by:
Michael Howard

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