By Tim Montgomerie
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Making an argument that was also made on ConHome's Deep End on Friday, Iain Duncan Smith urged Tory Eurosceptics to give more leeway to the Prime Minister on Europe. Interviewed on Andrew Marr's programme this morning he said "I just honestly feel that sometimes we do not give enough credit to him – the first man to veto a European treaty". Twenty years after rebelling against another Tory Prime Minister, John Major, over Maastricht, the Cabinet's most senior Eurosceptic was protecting Cameron's patriotic flank. The Work and Pensions Secretary said that the PM had used tough and strong words about the forthcoming EU budget negotiations. "The Prime Minister is on our side," he said and "wants to get the best deal… If he can get that freeze that would be a pretty significant start, so I would be satisfied."
Three weeks after Michael Gove appeared to open the door to leaving the European Union if renegotiation failed, IDS also refused to reject Britain leaving the EU. He was, I think, asked three times to say whether he supported continuing British membership and three times he gave somewhat convulted answers. "I am an optimist about the UK," he said, continuing:
"We have been involved in trade with our European partners, which we will always be doing whatever this relationship is. We are a member of the EU. That gives us benefits. But we have to figure out where that is going. In the world, we are a global trader already. We are more of a global trader than any country in Europe. I hate this argument that says little Britain or something outside, or Britain is part of a wider Europe. We can both be within our trading relationships within Europe but we can also be a fantastic global trader."
The Spectator's Isabel Hardman has more quotes.
Away from Europe the Work and Pensions Secretary also played peacemaker with the Chancellor. He backed the Number 10 & 11 line that wealthier pensioners' benefits were off limits – at least for this parliament. This won't please my colleague Pete Hoskin who has described a race now being on for politicians to abandon universal benefits and use the savings wisely. Mr Duncan Smith, known to be sympathetic to the idea that pensioners should help pay their fair share of deficit reduction, was nonethless more sympathetic to them today. Pensioners, he said, had less opportunity than people of working age to go out and find alternative sources of income if the state changed the welfare regime in unexpected ways.
Finally on his own brief Mr Duncan Smith repeated his case for limiting the benefits paid to larger families. He told Andrew Marr that everybody in Britain should made decisions about family size based on what they could afford and that a cap on child-related benefits might encourage thoughtful decision-making. A child-related benefits cap could become an important election issue. George Osborne's intuition that benefit and immigration caps could drive a wedge between Ed Miliband and Labour's heartland working class voters has been confirmed by Downing Street's pollster Andrew Cooper. A report in the Independent on Sunday raises questions about whether Mr Cooper will be in post for much longer, however. The newspaper's Jane Merrick reawakens long-term rumours that he may be about to return to civvy street and to the Populus polling organisation he founded. If he does leave it might help pave the way for Lynton Crosby to join CCHQ as the Australian would probably want control of polling as part of any deal.