Cameron's leadership on the line as Europe faultline splits Tories
Published 21/03/2016 | 02:30
David Cameron will today mount a "passionate and powerful" fightback against Iain Duncan Smith as he attempts to regain control of the Tory party amid its deepest crisis for two decades.
The British prime minister will defend his record as a "compassionate Conservative" who has "done the right thing for Britain" after Mr Duncan Smith resigned and accused him of putting wealthy Conservative voters ahead of Britain's working poor.
Prompting the deepest split in the Conservative Party since the chaos that engulfed the final years of John Major's premiership, the former work and pensions secretary accused Mr Cameron and George Osborne, the Chancellor, of attempting to "divide society" in their pursuit of power.
In a round of television interviews yesterday, Mr Duncan Smith said recent cuts to disability benefits showed that Mr Cameron had abandoned the 'One Nation' pledge which he had put at the heart of his re-election campaign last year.
Asked if Mr Cameron's government was "immoral", he said: "I think it is drifting in the direction that divides society, rather than unites it.
"As far as I am concerned, the risk is there. We are not there yet, but I want to change that."
In the hours that followed his interview, ministers on both sides of the argument took to the airwaves and openly denounced one another.
Furious allies of the prime minister accused Mr Duncan Smith of quitting over Europe and "using benefits as an excuse to hide his real motives".
Michael Howard, who succeeded Mr Duncan Smith as Tory leader and is supporting the campaign to leave the EU, last night backed Mr Cameron as the crisis threatened to engulf the party.
He told the 'Daily Telegraph': "We are and continue to be a One Nation party under David Cameron's leadership."
One cabinet member described Mr Duncan Smith and his allies as a "group of disaffected never-weres and never-will-bes who should just shut up".
However, Mr Cameron is now expected to face a leadership challenge within weeks of the June 23 referendum on Britain's EU membership, regardless of the outcome of the vote. Dozens of MPs are already plotting the revolt against Mr Cameron.
There are growing concerns that the looming referendum may mean that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne find it impossible to heal the rift at the heart of the Conservative Party.
Last night, Mr Cameron was warned that he had brought the crisis on himself because of his aggressive handling of the referendum, which has alienated senior eurosceptics.
Mr Duncan Smith was said to have been left "enraged" and "betrayed" by comments made in recent weeks by Mr Cameron and his allies that the Leave camp was prepared to sacrifice British jobs in their attempt to leave the EU, so that they could control immigration.
Meanwhile, several backbenchers openly undermined Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne over the row, with others privately declaring his leadership ambitions over.
Mr Duncan Smith yesterday gave an explosive interview in which he attacked a plan to cut disability benefits.
He accused Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne of putting the need to reduce the deficit ahead of the needs of the poorest in society.