57 per cent of party member respondents said that the Chancellor was “more at fault than Iain Duncan Smith for what went wrong”, while 16 per cent said that the former Work and Pensions Secretary was “more at fault than George Osborne for what went wrong”. 15 per cent said that both were equally at fault. Readers were also given the option of declaring that “nothing much went wrong: the row was part of the usual rough and tumble of politics”, and 9 per cent of them took it.
The Chancellor has been on the political ropes recently, though he came out fighting on this site last week over the minimum wage, tax cuts, help for savers and the single-tier state pension – all of which, he wrote, would be delivered “over the next seven days”.
For what it’s worth, I think Osborne was right about the principle of PIP savings (with which Duncan Smith did not disgree) and that the former Work and Pensions Secretary was right about the timing. If the Coalition had still been in government and Phillipa Stroud still been in place at Work and Pensions as a SpAd, the resignation might have been averted. But there was more to the contretemps than a blunder – or even the loss of one of the Government’s leading reformers.
At the heart of the row was Duncan Smith’s belief that older, richer and retired voters are being unfairly protected from the public spending scaleback than younger, poorer and working ones (that PIP is not a work-related payment is beside this bigger point).
The former Work and Pensions is right. The case for growing defence spending at the NATO minimum each year is sound. But the protection of health and pensions spending and the consequent squeeze on other departments is not sustainable indefinitely – and has an especially severe effect. The Government needs to get off the hook of ring-fencing these budgets as soon as possible. An Affordability Commission offers the most likely means of doing so while minimising the political damage.