It is hard to resist the notion that whenever the Conservatives wish to appear in the newspapers they have another internecine war. Once again, the columnists are wringing their hands over the suicidal tendencies of the party and various MPs are shedding crocodile tears at the promised demise of their enemy.
It is always entertaining to hear the loudest condemnation of a party's change of policy come from those who would never vote for them in the first place. Just as when Mr Blair jettisoned the sacred cows of old Labour that made his party unelectable, the loudest groans came from diehard Tories; so now we have the liberal tyranny reeling in horror at the thought of the Conservatives abandoning their attempts to mirror the synthetic sentimentality of new Labour.
I do not pretend that Iain Duncan Smith has handled matters expertly. His laughter on the Today programme was particularly disheartening - not least because it was an action replay of the worst of William Hague. Poor Mr Hague suffered from the mistaken belief that to laugh and giggle when presented with serious questions is to demonstrate how easy one is with them, how unworried, how in charge . . . In fact, the reverse is true. Inappropriate laughter creates a sense of someone out of their depth and lacking in gravitas.
That said, however, much as his enemies may like to pretend that what Iain Duncan Smith has done in shaking up Smith Square is foolish where the electorate is concerned, they are deluding themselves. The mistake of the present Conservative leadership was, on the contrary, to be initially seduced by the bland concept of "inclusivity" promulgated when Alastair Campbell first came to power. An idea was then marketed that a party should offer a "consensus" opinion on everything and condemn nothing and no one. And for a while, for Mr Blair at any rate, it worked. Voters were not to worry about voting Labour for the first time because, in a way, they were really voting Tory. This was necessary for the Labour Party because England, if not Great Britain, is an essentially Tory country and it was necessary for new Labour to present itself as safe Labour, that is Tory Labour, to gain power.
Alas for the Conservatives, a false deduction was made from this: if Labour needed to become Tory in order to get elected, then the Tories must need to become Labour to replace them. And so was born the notion of the Caring Conservative, a party of the right that essentially boasted every quality of the left. Tradition? The monarchy? Include me out! Penny-pinching? Us? We'll increase public spending! Intolerant? Never! Against the single mother? Not on your life! Refugees? The more the merrier! Harsher sentencing? Never in a month of Sundays! The new Tory didn't disapprove of anything. So frightened was he or she of appearing "nasty", to quote Theresa May's famously unhelpful word, that they were happy to abandon the tough line to David Blunkett.
But unless the government opts for selective genocide, nobody is going to turn against new Labour in order to sample the other new Labour. Why would they?
Does Mr Portillo honestly imagine that there is anyone out there who would vote Conservative because they are concerned about the rights of asylum-seekers or the treatment of the one-parent family? Does Mr Clarke truly believe that being pro-Europe will bring him to the forefront of a party where such a policy is opposed by 85 per cent of the membership? Indeed, unless these men are very intellectually challenged, it is impossible to view their carping statements as anything other than the desperate wrecking of the disappointed. Like Philippe Egalite or Talleyrand, they must have chosen the destruction of the system as preferable to seeing their opponents within it triumph.
The truth is that anyone who wishes the Conservatives well may regret the years spent listening to Amanda Platell or Dominic Cummings, but they cannot be sorry that IDS has finally decided to be a Tory.
This government teeters on the brink of an unpopular war. Trains shudder into their stations, late and dirty, motorways are jammed to a standstill, pensioners lie in filthy sheets on hospital trolleys, state school pupils have been abandoned to such a degree that soon the social engineers in power will forbid the universities to accept anyone who can sign their own name. There is plenty of evidence of collapse in our society and much opportunity for the political leader who can suggest a real will to address this mess instead of sitting around compensating burglars and promoting oral sex for pre-teens. If the Tories are to govern again, they must demonstrate that they are not solely concerned with the opinions of the liberal mafia, but instead are ready to tackle the disastrous policies of the past five years head on.