Could you live on £53 a week? How Cameron and Osborne responded

Iain Duncan Smith's cabinet colleagues have chosen not to match his boast that he could live on £53 a week.

Iain Duncan Smith's declaration on yesterday's Today programme that he could live on £53 a week ("If I had to, I would") has inevitably prompted journalists to ask his ministerial colleagues whether they could match the Work and Pensions Secretary's frugality. Below is how they've so far responded; I'll update the list as more answers come in. In the meantime, the petition urging IDS to "prove his claim" has now garnered 218,030 signatures. 

Iain Duncan Smith

"If I had to, I would."

David Cameron

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister, like the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, feels that benefit levels are fair."

George Osborne

"I don’t think it's sensible to reduce this to a debate about one individual's personal circumstances. This debate is not about any individual."

Greg Clark (Financial Secretary to the Treasury)

"I think it’s an incredible struggle to do that and I think any MP, anyone earning the comfortable wage that an MP has would certainly struggle.

"I think the context is this – we’re all having to tighten our belts…right across the board there are difficult choices to be made, it is an incredibly difficult situation."

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said if he "had to" live on £53 a week he "would". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.