Saturday 19 March 2016

Only a hollow sense of relief

If I'd ever thought about it beforehand, I would have assumed that I would greet the news of Iain Duncan Smith's resignation with a prolonged bout of helplessly gleeful cackling. But, after a few hours to digest the news properly, I feel only a sense of hollow relief. I feel mostly sadness for the hundreds of thousands on whom he has inflicted his arbitrary misery, and indeed those whose lives have prematurely come to an end because of his policies and practices. (Other people's responses have been a bit more, shall we say, robust.)

Speculation remains as to why he resigned. Some people accept his resignation letter at face value. I see no reason, however, to think that IDS has suddenly discovered a heart. He has throughout his reign at the DWP used the mantra of work to justify ever more repressive policies for sick and disabled people. He brought in PIP expressly for the purpose of saving money, regardless of the effect it had on recipients.  The probability that he now thinks the next cut is a step too far is lower than the probability of Nigel Farage voting to stay in Europe.

The real reasons are murky and complex. The Canary sees Boris's hand in it. Maybe. But I suspect a combination of factors.

Possibly, IDS has realised just how difficult it is to campaign to leave the EU from inside the cabinet. Possibly, he has included calculation of his likely career prospects under a new and Eurosceptic leader (so maybe Boris had some effect). So I suspect that Europe has something to do with it, but not much.

Possibly he calculates that now is a good time to get out of the DWP. Sooner or later the continuing car crash of Universal Credit implementation is going to come to a halt. Even for IDS the ability to continue to lie with conviction about how well things are going while constantly "resetting" must be reaching exhaustion point. There are the lengthy battles with the Information Commissioner to prevent the public from discovering the truth about just how nasty DWP policy has been, with regards to Universal Credit and the investigation of deaths following Work Capability Assessments. There is also the looming report from the UN Inquiry into the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the UK, which has the DWP firmly in its sights. Perhaps better to get out now and let his successor deal with the fallout from all those dirty bombs.

And possibly it is something about his ego and Cabinet politics. IDS fundamentally objects to anybody interfering on his patch, particularly when that someone is George Osborne, whom he venomously loathes. Although the budget cut to PIP is being described as a joint product of DWP and Treasury thinking, it does seem to have Osborne's butter fingered stamp on it. Maybe that was a move too far for IDS's over brimming and sulphurous ego.

Anyway, the man is gone, but not the policies. So who comes next? To me a more fundamental question is who want the job, knowing what he has left behind for them to deal with. Apparently Priti Patel is a front runner. She would be. Cruella de Ville in waiting. She wants to bring back hanging - a much more economical way of dealing with disabled people than trying to force them off benefit by constantly reassessing them. I wonder if Serco would bid for the contract. Or G4S, with their stellar record of running prisons.

To be honest, she would not be as bad as IDS. She has some loathsome ideas, but, compared to his lethal combination of incompetence and vindictiveness, she is a lightweight. So is almost anybody else.

I would not be surprised if the successor were not given the job as a holding appointment. The department needs a heavyweight minister, and Cameron does not want a reshuffle now. Assuming he survives the EU referendum, there will be one after that, when the job at the DWP can be given to somebody with the managerial and political experience to do the job properly. Or he could give it to another bully, of course.

Update: Stephen Crabb appointed. Not Cruella de Ville then. We shall see what Mr Crabb is made of.