Iain Duncan Smith arrives in Downing Street on September 5, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How Duncan Smith's departure would help Osborne

The pair are divided over where future welfare cuts should be made.

Is Iain Duncan Smith set to resign his post in next Monday's reshuffle? Westminster has been abuzz with speculation all day after a commuter wrote on Facebook that she overheard a "20 something brunette, with a very posh voice" remark on a train to London that "someone called Ian [sic] is leaving the DWP (apparently he wants to go and has agreed to go)." Rumour links Duncan Smith with a move to Defence as part of what the BBC's James Lansdale reports will be a "far wider reshuffle" than initially thought. 

It's worth recalling that the Work and Pensions Secretary previously turned down the offer of Justice in the 2012 reshuffle in order to "see through" the reforms he had started (albeit with little success since). One person who pushed for his departure then was George Osborne. As Matthew d'Ancona's In It Together revealed, the Chancellor believes that Duncan Smith is "just not clever enough". He has long been sceptical of his grand plan to transform the welfare system, Universal Credit (involving the merger of six benefits into one), fearing that the costs will outweigh any gains (hence why the Treasury still hasn't signed off the business case for it). To date, the DWP has written off £40.1m of assets developed for the programme and expects to write down a further £91m by March 2018, prompting the National Audit Office to warn that it has has "not achieved value for money". 

The pair previously clashed over Osborne's announcement at the 2010 Conservative conference that child benefit would be removed from high-earners, which Duncan Smith was not briefed on in advance and which he regarded as a punitive raid on families.

Further disagreement has come over post-2015 welfare cuts. While Osborne is committed to achieving £12.5bn of savings through further reductions to working-age benefits (in addition to the £21.5bn already announced), Duncan Smith believes that "you can’t keep hacking at the same people" and that wealthy pensioners cannot remain exempt from austerity. He would like to see universal payments such as the Winter Fuel Allowance, free TV licences and free bus passes means-tested in order to achieve a more "balanced" approach. But dismissing the prospect of cuts, Osborne has stated that pensioner benefits are "not where you need to make the substantial savings required". Another consideration is the electoral importance of the over-65s (the age group most likely to vote) and the risk that a raid on their benefits would allow Ukip to outflank the Tories by promising to safeguard all payments. 

Ahead of negotiations over the Conservative manifesto, then, the departure of Duncan Smith from the DWP, and his replacement with a more compliant figure, would help Osborne to secure the welfare policies he wants. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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MP after a moonlighting job? I've got the perfect opportunity

If it's really about staying in touch with the real world, how about something menial and underpaid? Or reforming parliamentary rules on second jobs...

There she stood outside Number 10 on 13 July last year, the new Prime Minister pledging with earnest sincerity her mission to fight injustice and inequality, to “make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us”.

 “When it comes to opportunity,” she promised the ‘just managing’ millions, “we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few". Another new day had dawned

But predictably since then it’s been business as usual. If we needed proof, George Osborne has provided it: those who have so little must continue to go without so that the man with so much can have it all.

What would it take for Tory backbenchers to trouble Theresa May’s serenity? Not her u-turn on Brexit. Nor her denial of Parliament’s right to scrutinise the terms of the UK's uncertain future. Certainly not a rampant Labour opposition.

But were she to suggest that they give up their adventures in the black economy and focus on the job their constituents pay them for, she would face a revolt too bloody to contemplate.

Fifteen years ago, I introduced the short-lived Members of Parliament (Employment Disqualification) Bill. My argument was simply that being an MP is a full-time job for which MPs are paid a full-time salary. If they can find time to augment an income already three times the national average, they can’t be taking it seriously or doing it properly.

Imagine the scandal if other public servants - teachers perhaps or firefighters – were to clock off whenever they fancied to attend to their nice little earners on the side. What would become of Britain’s economy if employers were unable to prevent their workers from taking home full pay packets but turning up to work only when they felt inclined?

But that’s what happens in the House of Commons. Back in 2002, my research showed that a quarter of MPs, most of them Conservatives, were in the boardroom or the courtroom or pursuing lucrative consultancies when they should have been serving their communities. And it was clear that their extra-curricular activities were keeping them from their Parliamentary duties. For example, in the six month period I analysed, MPs with paid outside interests participated on average in only 65 per cent of Commons votes while MPs without second jobs took part in 91 per cent.

I doubt that much has changed since then. If anything, it’s likely that the proportion of moonlighting Members has risen as the number of Tory MPs has increased with successive elections.

Their defence has always been that outside interests make for better politicians, more in touch with the "real world". That’s entirely bogus. Listening to people in their surgeries or in their local schools, hospitals and workplaces provides all the insight and inspiration a conscientious MP could need. The argument would be stronger were absentee MPs supplementing their experience and income in the menial, insecure and underpaid jobs so many of their constituents are forced to do. But, they aren’t: they’re only where the money is.

It’s always been this way. The Parliamentary timetable was designed centuries ago to allow MPs to pursue a gentleman’s interests. Until relatively recently, the Commons never sat until after noon so that its Members could attend their board meetings – or edit the Evening Standard - and enjoy a good lunch before legislating. The long summer recess allowed them to make the most of the season, indulge in a few country sports and oversee the harvest on their estates.

The world has changed since Parliamentary precedent was established and so has the now overwhelming workload of a diligent MP. There are many of them in all parties. But there are also still plenty like George Osborne whose enduring sense of entitlement encourages them to treat Parliament as a hobby or an inheritance and their duty to their constituents as only a minor obstacle to its enjoyment.

Thanks to Osborne’s arrogance, the Committee on Standards in Public Life now has the unflunkable opportunity to insist on significant, modernising reforms which remind both MPs and their electors that public service should always take precedence over private interest. And if sitting MPs can’t accept that principle or subsist on their current salary, they must make way for those who can. Parliament and their constituents would be better off without them.

Peter Bradley was the Labour MP for The Wrekin between 1997 and 2005.