Slow bowling

IAIN Duncan Smith is a decent man. He is also a keen footballer, who regularly plays early morning five-a-side with other MPs including myself. His football is a bit like his performances in the House of Commons; competent but not very skilful, and lacking that bit of magic which makes all the difference.

At this week's Prime Minister's Questions however, it was a cricketing metaphor which came to mind. He elected to use up the six questions allotted to him all in one go, instead of the usual batches of three.

His efforts resembled a rather poor over of slow bowling.

With six deliveries at his disposal we expected some variety, perhaps a change of pace, or at least a little bit of guile. Surely he would impart a touch of the famous spin so favoured by modern politicians.

Instead, he trudged down the wicket, delivering long hop after long hop to the Prime Minister. All of a sudden we knew why it is called the despatch box as each ball was set effortlessly to the boundary by Mr. Blair.

We waited in vain for the googly or the ‘wrong un' to slip past the Prime Minister's guard.
Perhaps he would dazzle us with his ‘flipper', but it was not to be.

Perhaps this is not entirely the fault of IDS. The job of the Leader of the Opposition is one which every politician is likely to aspire to at some time, but which no politician ever wants to keep.

Iain Duncan Smith seems doomed to join a club more exclusive that the MCC; the Failed Leaders of the Opposition Club.

There have been eleven Prime Ministers since the Second World War, but only five Leaders of the Opposition have failed to go on to become Prime Minister.

IDS seems doomed to join William Hague, John Smith, Neil Kinnock, Michael Foot and Hugh Gaitskell in that club.

That is not to be complacent about the next General Election; but by the bored faces of the Tory benches and the mutinous whispers in the lobbies, it seems unlikely that the Conservative Party will keep IDS as leader long enough to face the country at the ballot box.

He has the added difficulty of trying to oppose at a time of war. Whatever the difficulties of the Prime Minister, including the fact that 139 Labour MPs voted against the whip last week, IDS's difficulties are far greater.

In 1982 at the time of the Falklands War it was widely acknowledged that Michael Foot had the better of the early debates. Mrs. Thatcher's Government was rightly seen to have been complacent about defending the Falklands from Argentina, and to have given the impression that Britain would do nothing about an invasion.

Nonetheless, her support grew when war came. John Major seemed to benefit from the first Gulf War at the expense of Neil Kinnock.

It is hard to see how Iain Duncan Smith could gain anything from a war he has so strongly supported whatever its outcome, even if he had the skill to bowl out the Prime Minister.