Saturday, 19 March 2016

Is Duncan Smith’s Resignation the Beginning of the End for Cameron?

(Photo Manchester Evening News)

Last night’s dramatic news that Iain Duncan Smith had resigned as the Work and Pensions Secretary continues to reverberate around British politics. Duncan Smith has tried to spin his resignation as a matter of moral principle, saying that he does not support the Budget proposal to cut £1.3 billion from disabled people’s benefit payments.

This is rather curious, not only has Duncan Smith presided over billions of pounds of welfare cuts, including to the disabled, over the last six years, but also because the government had already signalled a re-think of the Budget proposal, conscious that Tory MPs were set to rebel and defeat the government in Parliament over the issue, if necessary.

Duncan Smith has said that after he was forced to defend the policy, to see it jettisoned was the final straw, but that is just politics. Duncan Smith has back tracked before, and this looks to be in the normal run of events of a government with small governing majority.

I think there is much more to this. Duncan Smith is a well-known Eurosceptic, and he has never really trusted the Prime Minister, David Cameron, over his negotiations on European Union (EU) reforms. Duncan Smith has only really been in the Cabinet because of the EU referendum, where Cameron judged it better to have him government, rather than causing trouble outside of it.

If all goes to plan for the Prime Minister, and the country votes to remain in the EU, I expect Duncan Smith would be sacked by the autumn at the latest. By resigning now, Duncan Smith has signalled a challenge to Cameron’s leadership and possibly stuck a fatal dagger into the back of the Chancellor, George Osborne, who is Cameron’s preferred successor when he stands down at some stage in this Parliament.

Certainly, there is no love lost between Osborne and Duncan Smith, with Osborne reported in the past as saying that Duncan Smith ‘is just not very clever’, and they have had constant battles over the welfare budget.

An interesting piece written by Kerry-Anne Mendoza at The Canary, makes the point that this is indeed an attempt at a coup by the Brexit wing of the Tory party, and that Boris Johnson is likely to have been involved, or at least informed about it.

Boris Johnson’s decision to join the Brexit campaign has virtually assured him of the leadership of the party once Cameron does go, but the sooner Cameron goes the better for Johnson and the worst for Osborne, although rumours abound that Osborne’s budget set us on course for a general election (with him as leader, he hopes) in next couple of years. Osborne doesn't plan to make the same mistake as Gordon Brown when he succeeded Tony Blair as Labour Prime Minister, by failing to call a general election, to obtain a 'personal' mandate.

So Europe, once again, is tearing the Tory party apart. The Eurosceptic wing of the party, roughly half of their MPs and probably three quarters of the rank and file membership, could force a leadership election after the EU referendum. Certainly, if we vote to leave there will be a challenge, but it is looking increasingly likely, that there will be one even if we remain.

All the pent up frustration of the Eurosceptics will need an outlet if we stay in the EU, and Cameron is increasingly seen as a traitor, who conned them with the offer of a referendum after renegotiations of our membership terms. His negotiations are considered to be inconsequential, and just a smoke screen to keep the Tory party united.

The next few months could finish off this government, and it is notable that a YouGov opinion poll released yesterday, shows for the first time under Corbyn’s leadership, Labour ahead in an opinion poll. It is only by one point, and as we know opinion polls are not terribly reliable, but this does compare to a steady Tory lead of around ten points since last year’s general election.

The split in the Tory party can only get wider, and we may get a chance to kick them out of government sooner than we had thought possible. It may be that Duncan Smith’s resignation, is his most significant act as a political operator.  

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