Exciting things are happening in British politics just now, mainly Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s dramatic resignation from the cabinet on Friday. This is not as straightforward as it looks. Was it really over disability benefits, as he claims? If so, why didn’t he resign long before? We all thought the cuts were his doing, ‘IDS’ having long been regarded as the villain of the piece so far as welfare is concerned: see Steve Bell’s characterisation of him as a blood-stained vampire bat. Is it a sudden conversion, then, his Damascene moment? (He claims to be a devout Christian.) Alternatively, was it – as a lot of people are saying – a Machiavellian plot to boost the ‘Brexit’ side in the EU referendum debate, which overshadows everything in our politics just now, by gravely wounding George Osborne, the Chancellor who announced the benefits cut in his budget speech on Wednesday, and who, with his pal David Cameron, is on the ‘Remain’ side (remain in the EU, that is)? Or, even more deviously: was it intended as a blow against Osborne’s well-known ambition to succeed Cameron as Prime Minister when the latter steps down, as he has said he will anyway before the next election? Their loathing for each other is apparently no secret. The haystack-haired clown Boris Johnson – Osborne’s main rival for the leadership, currently conveniently on a ski-ing holiday – is widely imagined to be rubbing his hands gleefully at the news of all this. Gosh what fun, for the Westminster-bubble commentariat! Policies and ideologies are such dull things. Clashing personal ambitions: now there’s something they can understand.
I would love to comment on this too, and might have done, were it not for my self-denying ordinance only to write blog articles from a position of special expertise or, at the very least, a new angle. Any angle that I can think of at the moment on the IDS affair has already been covered in great length and detail in the press. And I can’t even guess how it will all turn out. It might turn the tables in favour of Brexit: be the unexpected event that I warned could blow my own prediction of the referendum process (below, February 19) out of the water. It is bound to damage the government, with its small majority in the Commons, in some way. It has surely undermined the awful Osborne’s credibility fatally. It should boost Corbyn’s Labour Party; especially the final point IDS makes in his toxic resignation letter, which is that it seems wrong to take benefits away from society’s poorest and most vulnerable in a budget which also rewards the rich with tax cuts. IDS even quoted Cameron’s great mantra – that ‘we’re all in this together’ – against him at the very end. Narrow economic ideology (cutting the deficit) has, IDS claims, overridden the real interests of the people. This of course is precisely what Corbyn has been banging on about for months. Surely Labour can profit from this?
None of these musings is original, or within my professional comfort-zone, so perhaps I should leave it there. But first let me finish with one point that I haven’t noticed being emphasised elsewhere yet.
One of IDS’s complaints, as I understand it, is that these social welfare cuts were decided on and announced by the Chancellor in his budget, instead of by the Department and the minister most closely responsible for them. In other words, the Treasury is taking over policies that ought really to be none of its direct concern. That implies that it is the economy (or Osborne’s view of it) that is dominating everything. There’s nothing that cannot be regarded purely in economic – that is, profit and loss – terms. This is capitalism ad absurdum.
Likewise: another policy announced for the first time in the same budget statement was the conversion to ‘Academy’ status of all schools in England, whether parents and teachers want it or not (and they often don’t); together with the abolition of local authority control, and of ‘parent governors’, even; all as a prelude, we assume, to making them into profit-making enterprises, like in Sweden. (On the Swedish version, see below, December 5, 2013.) Quite apart from the intrinsic and substantial arguments against this ‘reform’, which are many, what on earth is the announcement of it doing in a Finance bill? – More evidence, surely, together with the Trump phenomenon (below, March 10), that Marx was right all along.
But at least IDS has kept Trump off our front pages for a bit. Perhaps we should thank him for that.