Naked Politics Blogger
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary has resigned from his position amid growing controversy over cuts to disability benefits set to affect as many as 640,000 people.
1. He claimed he has resigned on “moral grounds”
The cuts to PIP has drawn strong criticism, as the budget released by the Chancellor George Osborne raised the 40p tax threshold for middle earners to £45,000 per year alongside a reduction in corporation tax paid by big businesses to 17% by 2020. Duncan Smith wrote in his letter that in a budget that benefitted high earners, the cuts could not be justified. He went on to attack Osborne’s self-imposed targets by saying he believed that “certain policies are enacted to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints” that are “perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest”.
In the full resignation letter, Mr. Duncan Smith said that although the cuts might be defensible “in narrow terms”, they were “not defensible in the they way they were placed within the budget”. He went on to explain that “too often, my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run-up to the budget” going on to call the cuts to personal independence payments “a cut too far”. On Sunday’s The Andrew Marr Show, he stated that the cuts were put in place to fulfil an “arbitrary budget agenda” and dismissed the idea that it was anything to do with the EU referendum, or his future career prospects.
The move, which has shocked many commentators and leaves open the question of whether more of Cameron’s own ministers and backbenchers will begin to rebel over Osborne’s continuing “war against the disabled” and indeed his other controversial austerity measures.
2. Opposition members have been quick to criticise
The surprise resignation has certainly given the opposition members of Parliament plenty of ammo to use against the new budget. The Labour MP for Rhondda, Chris Bryant wrote on Twitter that “to all intents and purposes, there is no government when [the] governing party [is] split on budget, welfare and foreign policy”. The leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon quipped that “When even IDS [Iain Duncan Smith] thinks it’s a cruel cut too far, it is definitely time for a fundamental rethink”.
3. It provided a new dimension to the question of who the next Tory party leader will be
The surprise resignation coincides with questions about the future of the party, which seems to be divided on more and more issues, and that will be seeking a new leader in the run up to the 2020 election as David Cameron announced his plans to step down.
Although the bookies have favoured Boris Johnson for the Tory leadership for some time, this evening’s announcement from Duncan Smith raises questions about whether he intends to run himself, using a more anti-austerity stance to mobilise backbenchers unconvinced by Osborne’s policies. His resignation letter also focused on the moral argument to disability cuts, a move which may well be intended to recreate his image more positively, to bolster public support if he did run for the conservative leadership.
The storm around Duncan Smith’s departure may be enough to destroy the planned PIP cuts with political leaders already calling on Cameron to “admit he was wrong” and reverse the cuts.
4. He has even suggested Osborne and Co. only care about Tory party voters
In a fairly damning interview with Andrew Marr, he’s certainly not held back. He appears to confirm what many critics of the Conservative government often state, which is that those with the broadest shoulders do not take enough of the financial burden and that the Tories are pandering to their core voters, at the expense of the poorest. It certainly is not looking good if the Work and Pensions Secretary of six years is this pessimistic about the budget.
5. It’s not 100% guaranteed that the cuts will be put through
An online petition calling for the government to reverse the cuts has already gained over 124,000 signatures, meaning the government will be forced to consider the issue for debate. There may well also be a repeat of the Tax Credits cuts fiasco, where The House of Lords may block the legislation and Osborne may have to U-turn.