DWP Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith shocked the political world with his 18th March resignation from the Government… here’s why former Labour MP and former member of the DWP select committee Tom Levitt thinks he went:
Iain Duncan Smith’s Marr interview on Sunday was fascinating. Whilst it wasn’t Samson pulling down the pillars of the temple it was a highly political performance in the One Nation tradition of Heseltine, Super Mac and Disraeli. ‘We hold the power,’ says that idea, ‘but with power comes responsibility for the dignity of those beneath us.’ This is the aristocratic, public school, landowning idea of benevolent Conservatism.
IDS is no Disraeli; nor is he public school, aristocratic or landowning. But he has consistently distanced himself from the Grammar-School-Tory tendency, the hard-nosed, ‘on your bike’ approach of his predecessor as Member for Chingford – though even Norman Tebbit became a disability champion after the issue confronted him violently in Brighton, 1984.
As with Matthew Parris’ experience of living on benefits that same year so it appears was Duncan Smith’s a Damascene conversion on a Glasgow estate following his time as Tory leader. The Quiet Man changed his world view: those who hold power must accept responsibility for the poor.
Missing from the Marr interview was any mention of Europe, where IDS, one of Major’s Maastricht ‘bastards’, is passionate (if wrong). Surely, leading Brexit campaigners are damaged, not enhanced, by exiting from the Cabinet table? Baroness Altman’s protestation that IDS was a Brexit time bomb waiting to happen sounds like a confused and inexperienced politician interpreting the Number 10 ‘line’.
So what was going on this weekend?
Anyone who can create the Centre for Social Justice has redeeming features, whatever their record in Government. The CSJ has matured from a right wing think tank sticking plaster to a credible and authoritative commentator, a valuable contributor on social policy providing a valuable and different perspective. I spoke to IDS at a CSJ event; he was impressed that I had a client helping young people into work more efficiently, cheaply and sustainably than the Work Programme. When he invited us to Whitehall to hear all about it we found genuine interest and concern; frustration that Government was not delivering its employment goals.
It wasn’t the cuts to disability benefits that broke the camel’s back. It was the combination of cuts with the reduction in tax for the richest; combined with a chaotic handling of post-Budget fall-out by Numbers 10 and 11; and combined with the fact that, even if those cuts do not go through, the bill will still have to be met by benefit claimants of working age, those whose living standards have fallen most in the last six years. All this made a mockery of his goal of supporting people into work.
Those of us who are not Tories cannot imagine why IDS’s brain works in the way that it does. But his outrage was genuine, his frustration palpable and his concern heartfelt. In his own way Iain Duncan Smith does care what happens to poorer people; his anger is that Osborne, the architect of the economic policy to which he was obliged to be collectively committed, and the man who runs the Government when Cameron is busy being Prime Ministerial, does not.