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Think Iain Duncan Smith's resignation is a masterstroke? Sadly, he's not that clever

No, Iain Duncan Smith's resignation isn't part of a cunning plan.

Iain Duncan Smith spent five years in the Cabinet not resigning over cuts to disabled people's payments that did happen, before resigning over that one that won't happen. The proposed cuts to the Personal Independence Payment had already been called off following a public revolt by Conservative backbenchers, and news that the cut will be cancelled arrived in journalists' inboxes long before Duncan Smith's resignation did.

All of which might lead you to think that something else is going on, that this resignation has more to do with the coming referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union than anything to do with the welfare budget. For politicos - weaned on a diet of The West WingBorgenScandal et al - this is a particularly tempting narrative. We love to believe that there's a plan, that everything happens for a reason. There's just one small problem here: and that problem is Iain Duncan Smith.

As exciting as it would be for people like me, Iain Duncan Smith simply isn't clever enough to have thought this many moves ahead. This is the man who is the chief architect of the universal credit, which was supposed to have been rolled out in October 2013, and in March 2016 has been rolled out to the grand total of 203,000 people - and by "people", I mean "single men without dependents", the only group whose claims are simple enough to be processed on the universal credit.

This is the Secretary of State who has wasted so much money on failed policies that the government is able to claim - entirely truthfully - that the money being spent on disabled people has gone up, even though not a single penny has gone to disabled people while countless billions have been lavished on IT systems that don't work and a benefit reform that will never be implemented.

This is the man who as leader of the Conservative party mistook a spoof poster - "It rains less under a Conservative government" - for the real thing, happily posing underneath it. This is the man who Osborne described as "not clever enough" after watching him present on his welfare reforms in the last government. This is the man who, despite having been the longest-serving Secretary of State at the Department for Welfare and Pensions, leaves it having implemented nothing and done nothing. 

It is certainly true that this is a man who has been waiting for an excuse to walk out of the government since the Autumn Statement in November 2015, when Osborne moved the tax credit cuts into the universal credit rollout - a sign that, as far as the Treasury was concerned, the universal credit will never happen. As civil servants in the DWP have observed, Duncan Smith has been a broken figure since that setback, one that would have been obvious if he had had any grip on his department.

Resigning as part of a plan? As exciting as that would be, Iain Duncan Smith simply isn't good enough for that. 

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

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Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley: "The Greens can win over Ukip voters too"

The party co-leaders condemned Labour's "witch hunt" of Green-supporting members. 

“You only have to cast your eyes along those green benches to think this place doesn't really represent modern Britain,” said Caroline Lucas, the UK’s only Green MP, of the House of Commons. “There are lots of things you could do about it, and one is say: ‘Why not have job share MPs?’”

Politics is full of partnerships and rivalries, but not job shares. When Lucas and Jonathan Bartley were elected co-leaders of the Green party in September, they made history. 

“I don't think any week's been typical so far,” said Bartley, when I met the co-leaders in Westminster’s Portcullis House. During the debate on the Hinkley power plant, he said, Lucas was in her constituency: “I was in Westminster, so I could pop over to do the interviews.”

Other times, it’s Bartley who travels: “I’ve been over to Calais already, and I was up in Morecambe and Lancaster. It means we’re not left without a leader.”

The two Green leaders have had varied careers. Lucas has become a familiar face in Parliament since 2010, whereas Bartley has spent most of his career in political backrooms and wonkish circles (he co-founded the think tank Ekklesia). In the six weeks since being elected, though, they seem to have mastered the knack of backing each other up. After Lucas, who represents Brighton Pavilion, made her point about the green benches, Bartley chimed in. “My son is a wheelchair user. He is now 14," he said. "I just spent a month with him, because he had to have a major operation and he was in the recovery period. The job share allows that opportunity.”

It’s hard enough for Labour’s shadow cabinet to stay on message. So how will the Greens do it? “We basically said that although we've got two leaders, we've got one set of policies,” said Lucas. She smiled. “Whereas Labour kind of has the opposite.”

The ranks of the Greens, like Labour, have swelled since the referendum. Many are the usual suspects - Remainers still distressed about Brexit. But Lucas and Bartley believe they can tap into some of the discontent driving the Ukip vote in northern England.

“In Morecambe, I was chatting to someone who was deciding whether to vote Ukip or Green,” said Bartley. “He was really distrustful of the big political parties, and he wanted to send a clear message.”

Bartley points to an Ashcroft poll showing roughly half of Leave voters believed capitalism was a force for ill (a larger proportion nevertheless was deeply suspicious of the green movement). Nevertheless, the idea of voters moving from a party defined by border control to one that is against open borders “for now” seems counterintuitive. 

“This issue in the local election wasn’t about migration,” Bartley said. “This voter was talking about power and control, and he recognised the Greens could give him that.

“He was remarking it was the first time anyone had knocked on his door.”

According to a 2015 study by the LSE researcher James Dennison, Greens and Kippers stand out almost equally for their mistrust in politicians, and their dissatisfaction with British democracy. 

Lucas believes Ukip voters want to give “the system” a “bloody big kick” and “people who vote Green are sometimes doing that too”. 

She said: “We’re standing up against the system in a very different way from Ukip, but to that extent there is a commonality.”

The Greens say what they believe, she added: “We’re not going to limit our ambitions to the social liberal.”

A more reliable source of support may be the young. A May 2015 YouGov poll found 7 per cent of voters aged 18 to 29 intended to vote Green, compared to just 2 per cent of those aged 60+. 

Bartley is cautious about inflaming a generational divide, but Lucas acknowledges that young people feel “massively let down”.

She said: “They are certainly let down by our housing market, they are let down by universities. 

“The Greens are still against tuition fees - we want a small tax for the biggest businesses to fund education because for us education is a public good, not a private commodity.”

Of course, it’s all very well telling young people what they want to hear, but in the meantime the Tory government is moving towards a hard Brexit and scrapping maintenance grants. Lucas and Bartley are some of the biggest cheerleaders for a progressive alliance, and Lucas co-authored a book with rising Labour star Lisa Nandy on the subject. On the book tour, she was “amazed” by how many people turned up “on wet Friday evenings” to hear about “how we choose a less tribal politics”. 

Nevertheless, the idea is still controversial, not least among many in Nandy's own party. The recent leadership contest saw a spate of members ejected for publicly supporting the Greens, among other parties. 

“It was like a witch hunt,” said Lucas. “Some of those tweets were from a year or two ago. They might have retweeted something that happened to be from me saying ‘come join us in opposing fracking’, which is now a Labour policy. To kick someone out for that is deeply shocking.”

By contrast, the Greens have recently launched a friends scheme for supporters, including those who are already a member of another party. “The idea that one party is going to know it all is nonsense,” said Bartley. “That isn’t reality.”

Lucas and Bartley believe the biggest potential for a progressive alliance is at constituency level, where local people feel empowered, not disenfranchised, by brokering deals. They recall the 1997 election, when voters rallied around the independent candidate Martin Bell to trounce the supposedly safe Tory MP Neil Hamilton. Citing a recent letter co-signed by the Greens, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru condemning Tory rhetoric on immigrants, Bartley points out that smaller parties are already finding ways to magnify their voice. The fact the party backed down on listing foreign workers was, he argued, “a significant win”. 

As for true electoral reform, in 2011, a referendum on changing Britain's rigid first past the post system failed miserably. But the dismal polls for the Labour party, could, Lucas thinks, open up a fresh debate.

“More and more people in the Labour party recognise now that no matter who their leader is, their chance of getting an outright majority at the next election is actually vanishingly small,” she said. “It’s in their interests to support electoral reform. That's the game changer.” 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.