On Being a Pariah

Letter From London

In summer and autumn 2001, as Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Portillo, Kenneth Clarke, Michael Ancram, and David Davis slugged it out to see who would become the new leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, colorful stories began circulating about Duncan Smith, who was widely regarded as the right’s great white hope.

An ex-Army officer and the son of a World War II fighter pilot, Duncan Smith entered Parliament in 1992, in Norman Tebbit’s old seat for Chingford (on the Essex edge of London).  As Tebbit joked when he introduced his successor at a meeting, “If you think I’m right wing, you should meet this guy!”  Soon, Duncan Smith became part of the internal opposition to the Maastricht Treaty—a brave move for a new MP.  He spoke at a Monday Club meeting in 1996 and asked questions in Parliament about immigration and housing (which was received well locally, as many Chingfordians are part of the white flight from London’s East End).  He later became Tory spokesman on defense under William Hague and went along cheerfully with Hague’s sensible policies on asylum, the Macpherson Report, and homosexuality.  He seemed a dependable, if somewhat dull, standard-bearer for the right.

With such a curriculum vitae, he was never going to get good press (and never will—something he has yet to learn).  But the media campaign against...

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