Explosive interview sparks Tory civil war
In a blistering performance yesterday, Iain Duncan Smith, ex work and pensions minister, skewered his old enemy George Osborne and launched a bloody fight over the soul of conservatism.
‘Simply amazing’. ‘One of the most extraordinary political interviews of recent times’.
These were two pundits‘ verdicts on Iain Duncan Smith’s interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday.
As the UK’s work and pensions secretary, Duncan Smith has been synonymous with the reform of Britain’s welfare system for six years. Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg called him ‘as important a welfare secretary as I can think of’.
But when the chancellor, George Osborne, announced reform of personal independence payments (PIPs) for disabled people in his budget on Wednesday and then on Friday responded to a growing backbench rebellion by leaking that the reform would be shelved, Duncan Smith resigned.
It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, his friends said. After being forced against his better judgement to justify the cuts, then learning from reporters that they would be dropped, he felt humiliated and betrayed — even though it should have been good news for him.
But it was his attack on the government’s deepest political philosophy yesterday that has exposed the deep and festering rifts inside David Cameron’s government and fuelled furious infighting among Tories.
Duncan Smith essentially accused George Osborne of a lack of principle and of operating purely tactically to score political points over his opponents.
Former Tory chairman David Davis said last night: ‘Cameron and Osborne made Iain’s position impossible. Iain was on a moral mission to help the disadvantaged: Osborne sees government as an exercise in book-keeping’.
Duncan Smith’s support for a ‘one nation’ approach echoes prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, who believed the rich had a duty to the poor and wrote during the aggressively capitalist Britain of the industrial revolution of the ‘two nations, between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy’.
In the 20th century, radicals such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman challenged this, calling for limits on government action. Their ideas inspired UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher and US president Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.
Opponents of conservatism say both miss the point. Socialists want wealth to be redistributed from richest to poorest because it is simply wrong to accept inequality. And modern liberals say the least fortunate have a right to enjoy the same freedoms as the better off.
One nation conservatives are paternalistic some say: they argue the welfare state is a necessary way for the rich to fulfil their duty to the poor.
Neoliberals or free market enthusiasts say this is patronising. The welfare state makes people dependent upon money from the government and works against their freedom and individuality.
- Would you ever want the government to give you money to help you?
- Do you support the ideology of ‘one nation’ conservatism?
- Make a list of scenarios where the government might give somebody money (eg when they lose their job). Then write a list of questions the government would be likely to ask themselves in each situation.
- In teams of three, stage a debate: ‘This House believes the government’s welfare changes since 2010 have been unfair’. Research at least one controversial welfare reform each in preparation.
Some People Say...
“Government’s job is to get out of people’s way.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Isn’t this just a few people in Westminster arguing with each other?
- Personal relations between Osborne and Duncan Smith may have played a part. But this is about what government should do to help people. The more it spends, the more it needs to raise in tax — which some see as a disincentive to economic growth, so making everyone poorer. But if government does not help the needy, there may be little support if you fall into trouble.
- I don’t live in the UK. What is the welfare state like elsewhere?
- Social democratic countries — often European — tend to spend more on welfare than strongly capitalist ones. In 2007, one analysis showed five European countries spent more than 25% of their national wealth on social protections. In the US and Australia, by contrast, such spending was around 15%.
- Christopher Hope of The Telegraph and James Forsyth of The Spectator .
- According to fullfact.org £231bn or 35% of total government spending is on social welfare benefits and social services, including state pension of £92bn; Duncan Smith said the government will have cut £33bn from working age benefits by 2020 but left pensions untouched — suggesting this was because many pensioners vote Conservative (unlike people on benefits).
- Some colleagues said the resignation was about the EU. Others declared an ‘anyone but George’ campaign for the Tory leadership.
- The prime minister in the 1860s and 70s restricted child labour, regulated factories and made school compulsory to the age of 10.
- Welfare state
- The Liberal government reforms (1906-14) included pensions and national insurance. The 1942 Beveridge Report calling for an assault on the ‘five giants’ – disease, want, ignorance, squalor and idleness – was adopted by the Labour government of 1945-51 which extended national insurance to cover everyone, built nearly a million council homes and created the NHS.