Cameron’s first policy resignation: IDS quits

Cameron’s first policy resignation: IDS quits


But it’s Osborne in the firing line

There are two easy assumptions that need dismissing about IDS’s resignation yesterday. Firstly, this is not a power gambit on Duncan Smith’s part; and secondly, his going is not to do with Europe.

The two in fact tie together. There could be – and perhaps already is – an explanation that runs thus: IDS has really quit because he is upset by how the Remain side is conducting the European debate; in leaving he is free to directly criticise the prime minister for his at best difficult-to-substantiate assertions; by taking dramatic action he places himself at the forefront of the campaign and, should Leave win, at the front of the race to be next Tory leader.

The problem with that interpretation is that it doesn’t fit the facts. If IDS had wanted to do maximum damage to Cameron and Osborne – and, by extension, to Remain – he would have quit on Budget Day itself, or in fact just about any time other than a Friday evening when MPs are away from Westminster and newspapers have least time to react for tomorrow (albeit that the Sundays get a good run).

Similarly, if it was about Europe then he would have said so. The two letters that stand out by their omission from Duncan Smith’s resignation letter are ‘EU’. No doubt he will feel freer to criticise Remain’s ‘project fear’ tactics now, but that will be very much a secondary consequence. If he had quit over Europe (or as a power play) then it would have been the PM in his sights. 

But it’s not. Instead, it’s George Osborne who takes the full force of Duncan Smith’s ire; Osborne’s political gaming, his rushed Budget preparations, his short-termist approach and his willingness to risk effectiveness tomorrow for acclaim today. Also – one assumes – because Osborne tried to arrange it so that IDS would take the flak for the chancellor’s decisions.

It is easy to over analyse this resignation, particularly for those fond of seeing politics in terms of personalities scrabbling up the greasy pole. IDS has been there, done that and it turned out badly; he cannot have any ambition left on that score. No, for all the criticisms of Duncan Smith over the years, one that cannot be reasonably levelled at him is deceitfulness; he has always been plain about where he stands. There is no reason to believe any different now.

Nor do I believe those who claim that he jumped before he would be pushed post-referendum. While there may well be a reshuffle after the referendum, unless Remain wins by a country mile then the PM is unlikely to want to risk further antagonising the Eurosceptic wing of his party by offering up martyrs who’d been doing a decent job. Such talk also misses the point that no sensible leader ever lets on about a reshuffle before it happens: rumours are just that.

But a reshuffle there will now have to be and one that Cameron hadn’t planned. If he is thinking about another change after the referendum then he’d need to keep this weekend’s as pared down as possible (indeed, if there is a sizable move-around in the next few days, that pretty much rules out a planned reshuffle this year).

The audacious move would be to offer the job to Boris. Some might argue that it’d be slotting a round peg into a complex polygonal hole. Perhaps. But it would avoid knock-on effects while simultaneously bringing a degree of control over Boris.

More likely is a promotion from a Minister of State and there, Priti Patel is the obvious candidate being already within the department. Holders of HenryG’s 50/1 tip of her as the next Conservative leader from back in 2011 would no doubt welcome the appointment.

Heading the other way on the scales of fate is the chancellor. Duncan Smith’s letter is deeply damaging to him because it lays bare an unfair and excessively calculating approach to politics that is unattractive to public and politicians alike. After several months when he’s underperformed in his jobs, there’ll be few who’d go out on a limb to offer him unconditional support. The question is whether Cameron will be one of those few. He has been very loyal to his colleagues in the past but it is possible to be loyal to a fault.

David Herdson

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