Ian Duncan Smith (IDS), Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, sensationally resigned from the Cabinet on March 19th, claiming that Osborne’s proposed cuts to Disability benefits, outlined in the 2016 Budget, were a ‘compromise too far’. It has now been revealed that IDS actually voted for the Budget proposal, just mere days following the controversy. In the midst of this confusion, Young Perspective asks why IDS finally supported the Budget, and explores what the political fallout of this fiasco has been for the politician and the Conservative Party as a whole.
IDS’s initial outrage was centred on a proposed £4bn cut to Disability Benefits. This then led IDS to take to news media outlets in outrage following his resignation, where he stated ‘this is not the way to do government’. Consequently, IDS became a poster boy for all those disillusioned with the 2016 Budget. And there were a lot of them. People took issue with the perceived hypocrisy of the proposals, which aimed to cut corporation tax, whilst levying a tax on sugary drinks and a cut to funding in a number of areas, including pensions and disability benefits.
Hence, commentators on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter applauded IDS’ ‘principled stand’ against an incumbent Conservative government who was ‘drunk on power’. They saw the move as an act of defiance against a cruel, spending-slashing Tory government. They thought that it was an act of martyrdom perpetrated on the basis of morality alone: a prominent politician losing it all to stand up for the ‘little guy’. They thought IDS was a hero.
One can imagine, therefore, the shock of those who celebrated IDS’ move when they found out that, just days later, he voted in favour of the Budget. What is more, he was not simply a quiet supporter, as footage emerged of him fist-bumping with happiness in the House of Commons following the Chancellor’s announcement of the new ‘living wage’ proposal’s implementation. IDS’ near-instantaneous return towards supporting the government which he had been so quick to condemn opened up a whole new can of worms around the politician.
It seemed to demolish the narratives which so many people contrived around this issue. No longer was he a selfless agent for change. Now, more than ever, he was the establishment incarnate. People from all walks of life began to question the motivations for his resignation in the first place. Was it actually a political move to undermine Osborne? Was it an attempt to undermine the Conservative’s stance on other key issues, such as the EU Referendum, of which IDS was a prominent Brexit campaigner?
We will likely never know with certainty the real reason for IDS’ resignation from the Cabinet. It is important to remember that IDS supported the Budget once plans to cut disability benefits were removed from the Budget. Ostensibly, then, IDS may have voted for the Budget as the main impetus for his outrage – cuts to disability benefits – were no longer included in the proposal. However, many prominent commentators have come out and questioned IDS’ motives. While some, such as Garnham of the Child Poverty Action Group, came out in support of the move, seeing it as an attempt to stand up to cuts to benefits, opinions from inside the Conservative Party have been more divided. Whilst Pensions Minister Altman stated that IDS really wanted to deal ‘maximum damage to the party leadership in order to further his campaign to get Britain to leave the EU’, Jobs Minister Patel dismissed Altman’s claims as ‘a smear’.
Whatever IDS’ intentions were, the political fallout for the Conservative Party has been severe. Osborne’s Budget proved to be a disastrous failure for the Tories and caused his satisfaction ratings to equal his lowest ever. The unpopularity of the Budget has led some to question whether he is still a viable candidate to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, despite initial literature which seemed hopeful about Osborne’s chances. Although Osborne has seen a great degree of negative press lately, it is not just the general public who has turned against him. Despite the 2016 Budget’s pledge to cut corporation tax, soft-drink manufacturers Coca Cola, Britvic AG Barr have threatened to fight Osborne’s new sugar tax in the courts. The Budget has dealt a serious blow to Osborne, and the sudden, vicious wave of criticism concerning the Chancellor may have been exacerbated by the theatrics employed by IDS during his resignation.
For IDS, some may argue that very little has changed. Although he is no longer a member of the Cabinet, he still remains a prominent MP, who has largely retained the support of the Conservative Party, despite public opinion on his resignation being often less favourable.
Yet, if IDS’s resignation was really a move to undermine the Conservative government, it was a successful one. The Budget has come under a near-unprecedented amount of criticism, which has rendered many prominent Tories, including Cameron and Osborne, on the defensive. Either way, it will be interesting to see whether the damage caused by IDS produces a lasting impact on British voters, and if it has shifted public opinion tangibly regarding the Brexit question.
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