In full: Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation letter.
Politics never fails to surprise. Yesterday my view of IDC was of someone wholly committed to cutting the costs of welfare in line with the Osbourne obsession with deficit reduction. A part of the inner group who were set on the reduction in the scale and role of the state. It goes to show that from a distance and from outside the machinery of government it is difficult to discern the subtleties of individual politicians positions.
His letter aside from the formal platitudes, is as heartfelt as Geoffrey Howe’s comments about being sent into bat when your captain had broken your bat before the match. You really do get the feeling this is a man whose intentions were honourable, whether you agreed with them or not. He genuinely wanted a system which provided a “generous safety net” but also incentives to work. Most people agree with that broad picture but, perhaps because of the constant compromises that had to be made to meet the demands of austerity, felt its implementation was not consistent with the vision. More and more it simply looked like cost cutting.
Clearly this eventually got to IDC and led to his willingness to question not just the need for the specific cuts but rather George Osborne’s whole approach to economic management. His view that the “fiscal self imposed restraints” were more “political” than “in the national economic interest”.
His criticism is not just of Osbourne however. His concern goes to the strategic framework of the Prime Ministers administration. The ideological rhetoric that “we are all in it together” is starting to dissolve and IDC’s resignation may be seen as a key moment in the beginning of that process.
The Tory’s risk tearing themselves apart. It will be fascinating to see what the Sunday papers say and whether the character assassination of IDC starts in earnest. No doubt Osbourne is winding that up right now. However, if he has any sense Cameron may want to try to avoid this. IDC has a lot of support and under attack some of that support will be just as vicious as the government machine can be.
Going forward it is difficult to see a happy scenario for this administration. If Messrs Cameron and Osbourne manage to win the referendum there will be a lot of very unhappy MP’s and constituency party members and it will be an impressive piece of leadership to avoid the party expending an immense amount of energy on internal squabbling. If they lose they will have to go. Of more concern this whole mess may actually help the no campaign.
Mr Osbourne delivered this budget with his usual panache. Despite having failed, two out of his three self imposed tests and clearly having to “fix the figures to meet the policy” for his final test in 2019/20 he presented the budget as part of a triumphant programme of successful economic progress.
For many there has been a disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality for some time. Both Mr Cameron and Mr Osbourne are past masters at saying one thing and doing another (supporting hard working families by removing tax credits, supporting the environment by reducing renewable energy subsidies). In this budget that disconnect has been revealed from the inside.
Mr Osbourne’s rhetoric about his success sounds more and more like the claim that “the DLS sale must end on Monday”. Stated with great conviction and fanfare, but basically not true.
Ironically IDC may have done more to protect the welfare system by his resignation than he ever did in office. However, and whilst it pains me to say it, I have revised my view of his motives. I think he genuinely was trying to improve the welfare system and it may be the case that with a less ideological chancellor he could have delivered the transformation of welfare that is needed. That job could never be done on the cheap and it wont be. A modern state is expensive but I suspect the alternative is ultimately more expensive.