Yesterday certainly came as a shock. Iain Duncan Smith resigned from his position of Work & Pensions Secretary, which he had held since 12 May 2010. Since the Conservatives won a full majority on parliament last May, IDS has been the center of further controversy. With the party not being completely watered-down by the Liberal Democrat’s presence in the coalition government (from 2010-2015), the floodgates for harsher cuts to welfare were seemingly flung open. Being in this highly unpopular position, IDS was perceived as the demonic figure behind the cuts. The mentioning of his name in many suicide notes shows this.
Yet his resignation letter, which was presented yesterday, shatters this narrative of him being a heartless, blood-sucking – or welfare-sucking – fiend. He showed that he was becoming increasingly unsettled and opposed to the cuts. The section below summarizes this:
“I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest,”
The letter can be read in full here.
Many of IDS personal friends had reported the discomfort he felt in being asked “again and again” to implement cuts on benefits for working aged people and the disabled. As suggested in his letter, he clearly saw the policies as morally indefensible.
Conservative ministers have cultivated a reputation from critics of the party, particularly the left, of being out of touch with the masses, and having disdain for the poor and vulnerable. In the eyes of many, the stereotypical Conservative politician will be someone who was raised in a privileged background, independently educated, an Oxbridge graduate, who then transfers into a comfortable political career. This ‘elitist’ portrayal of course rubs off on the overall party image; contributing to its prevailing reputation as “the nasty party”.
Yet IDS did not come down this traditional route. He was by no means from a typical ‘Tory minister’ background. He actually had a rather modest upbringing, and attended a comprehensive school in Scotland. After leaving school, he served in the army from 1975-1981. Rather than a lavish, paid-for-by-parents education, this served as his educational background.
His religious faith adds to this modesty too. Being a Conservative and a Catholic, you’d expect him to fall in line with the view of many church-members in Britain, who are seen as constituting “The Tory Party at Prayer” – as it is known. Christianity is commonly connected with Conservative politicians. Yet many of them overlook their Judeo-Christian values of giving to the poor, helping the weak, and looking after one’s fellow man – compromising on their faith for their career. IDS was perhaps a different case. Perhaps he truly succumbed to the morality promoted by his faith; realizing that he was being untrue to his identity.
He was often a rebel from his party’s narrative too. Take the case of the European Union. He was one of the leading figures to oppose Prime Minister David Cameron’s position, and desire to stay within the EU. Instead of falling inline with what his leader wanted, he pursued a staunch opposition to Britain remaining. Some have even attributed this to him leaving.
I’ve seen many people rejoicing and cheering now that he has stepped down. Given that many have been affected by the cuts made under his watch, I can fully sympathize with this. Yet nothing remarkable will change. Some people’s initial reactions to his resignation suggests many believe that things will miraculously improve now that IDS has gone. Clearly however, as he began to show opposition to the cuts, he wasn’t exactly contributing to the severity of them. Bear in mind, it was George Osborne’s budget which forced the implementation of the recent disability cuts.
Even if another figure from a modest background – Stephen Crabb – has assumed the position of Works and Pensions Secretary (an odd pattern, two figures from working-class backgrounds assuming this position within the Conservative Party), surely he will also fall in line with his party’s aims, become a careerist for as long as possible, and continue the trend of debilitating cuts – in the clearly undesirable position of Work and Pensions Secretary.