It’s easy to see why George Osborne included the changes in disability benefits in his budget last week. By adding it to a ‘money bill’, he removed the possibility of the House of Lords, should it have got that far, of repeating its treatment of proposed tax credit cuts. It’s also easy to see why, following the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith, why they have been abandoned. This and the debate over Brexit probably now means that George will not succeed David in Number 10…for a significant number of MPs and an even greater number of Conservative Party members and for the broader public, George has now become a toxic brand. With his reputation as a master political tactician—something I must admit I’ve always believed has been over-stated--now in ruins, he appears to have forgotten one of the most important rules in politics…you can push colleagues so far but eventually they’ll say right I’ve had enough. For IDS, the change to Personal Independence Payments was that tipping point...the ‘quiet man’ bites back.
At the heart of the resignation is a growing tension within the Conservative Party between those who espouse a liberal Conservative position grounded in market enterprise—what might be called the ‘powerhouse Conservatives’—and compassionate One Nation Conservatives, many of whom were elected in 2010 or 2015, for whom a fair society is at the heart of their thinking. You might say that George represents the first while David ‘hug a hoodie’ Cameron is more inclined towards the latter. You could also argue that the reason why the Conservatives have done so well since 2010 is because of the creative tension between the two, unlike the tendentious Brown-Blair relationship. Cameron had urged the Chancellor to avoid any major controversy in the Budget so as to avoid fuelling discontent among Tory MPs ahead of the EU referendum. George listened over changing when pensions were taxed but then went for disability benefits presumably without recognising that it was equally controversial. And it could all have been avoided. I don’t see why there couldn’t have been an uncontroversial mini-budget to keep thinks ticking over until November or until after the referendum. Could this be a further example of political hubris…a belief in their invincibility? Well, yes it is. If you see a potential obstacle in front of you, you don’t march straight into it in the misguided belief that it will simply evaporate. Once the referendum is over George needs to be moved…Foreign Office I think…so that a new pair of eyes can look at the treasury brief if only because he’s been in the job for six years and, as he’s said on several occasions, there’s no Plan B.
Do we spend too much on welfare and should this be reduced? Across the political divide there is general agreement that welfare is disproportionately high compared to other areas of government spending and that reductions can be made. The question is how should this be done and IDS’s resignation has again highlighted the view that the government’s approach is often deeply unfair as it juxtaposes cuts for the majority with tax cuts for the wealthy and that, in IDS’s words, the government is in ‘danger of drifting in a direction that divides society rather than unites it, and that, I think, is unfair’'.’ IDS also criticised the ‘arbitrary’ decision to lower the welfare cap after the general election and expressed his ‘deep concern’ at a ‘very narrow attack on working-age benefits’ while also protecting pensioner benefits.