Was Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation the best example of spin since the days of Blair’s babes and the Armani clad cabinet?
Alistair Campbell is in the spotlight again with his latest rant on Brexit in The Observer. When Iain Duncan Smith handed in his notice a few weeks back, I was instantly reminded of scenes from The Thick of It as resignation frenzy hit Westminster. One can only imagine what Malcolm Tucker’s real-life incarnation must have been screaming through the corridors of Whitehall.
When IDS took the ‘hard, moral decision’ to resign last week after Osborne’s Budget was “a compromise too far”, hacks went into overdrive trying to figure out what was behind his supposed commitment to helping those most in need, yadda yadda yadda. Of course, the obvious answer is (here’s that phrase again) Britain’s relationship with the EU. IDS has always had a strong desire to leave but, unfortunately for him, his Chancellor and Prime Minister aren’t on the same page. Despite this and Andrew Marr’s best efforts, Duncan Smith still hasn’t let loose and revealed his true reasons and perhaps he never will. However, this doesn’t stop us speculating, does it? Thought not.
Perhaps the first person to call out IDS’ decision was Cameron himself. After all, he was the first to mention the E word (Europe) when he wrote the following in his riposte to the resignation letter:
“While we are on different sides in the vital debate about the future of Britain’s relations with Europe, the Government will, of course, continue with its policy of welfare reform, matched by our commitment to social justice, to improving the life chances of the most disadvantaged people in our country, and to ensuring that those who most need help and protection continue to receive it.”
In other words, Cameron wanted to reassert his dissatisfaction with his colleague’s decision to join the dark side and just had to have a prod.
And who can blame him for having a parting shot? After all, Duncan Smith has spent his career getting the Tories in trouble. His initial break coming from his baby; universal tax credit. The scheme, designed to consolidate benefits into one monthly payment, left the poorest out of pocket, who’d have thunk it? The Work & Pensions Secretary said in 2010 that UTC “targeted work activity for those who need to get used to the habits of work”. It is this stingy, acidic tone that has really summed up his time in politics.
But what of the man beneath the cloak of disregard? After a stable Catholic upbringing, he served in the Scots Guards for six years before a stint at defence company, GEC Marconi. Then, out of nowhere, the non-university educated ex-servicemen from Edinburgh entered parliament in 1992, taking Norman Tebbit’s old seat.
Achieving power was certainly not at the top of IDS’ list and he was by no means a ‘career politician’. He once remarked to his former press secretary, Nick Wood: “I’ll fight for what I believe and if I don’t get a job – so be it.”
Well, it turned out he did get a job, leader of the party no less. Although this surprise venture did not go quite as planned. His Chief of Staff, Tim Montgomerie, said of his reign: “Completely unprepared. He had no staff, no infrastructure, no worked-out agenda.”
Not only did he not have the backing of his Chief of Staff, his party soon followed suit, resulting in a vote of no confidence in 2003.
But what’s next for Smith? Well, he’ll be back on your telly soon shedding his crocodile tears all over Ian Hislop’s new documentary on benefits throughout the ages. The not-so-sneak preview shows the former DWP Minister choking up over meeting a 19-year-old, out of work single mother. Cue the OTT Hollywood trailer: ‘From the man who brought you cuts to ESA for the disabled, the £20,000 benefit cap and the slashing of the spare-room subsidy for social housing, Iain Duncan Smith stars in IDS, a tale of persecution and back-stabbing.’ You can just see the reviews now.