The resignation of Iain Duncan Smith exposes the deep divisions within the Tories. Now, writes Duncan Thomas, we need to bring them down.
It’s past midnight on the Friday after St Patrick’s Day and I’m in Dublin. The rest of the city is drinking and dancing; I’m in the basement of a cheap, terrible hostel, all alone, struggling with an ancient computer. And yet, I might just be the happiest guy in town, because the (ex!) Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has just opened up what might be the biggest crisis in the Tory party since Geoffrey Howe’s 1990 resignation signaled the beginning of the end of Thatcher.
Perhaps, at this moment, it’s fitting that I’m in Ireland – for it was here that the word ‘Tory’ was born. Originating from the Irish word toruighe, meaning a ‘plunderer’, ‘one of a class of robbers known for outrages and savage cruelty’, it seems tailor-made for IDS, the toriest Tory around.
For six years, he has pummelled the poor, the sick, the disabled. His mission to ‘make work pay’ has been conducted through one tactic, and one tactic alone: a concerted drive to make life on welfare so precarious, so miserable, so hard, that people will eventually be forced to accept any job, under any conditions. He even let them practice by making people work for charities and corporations for free, under threat of the withdrawal of their meager benefits. But hey, at least Conservative Party donors made £73 million through the scheme.
His much-trumpeted Universal Credit system, meanwhile, cost 2.1 million of the poorest families in the UK £1,600 a year each, while his ‘bedroom tax’ has driven thousands into dependency on payday loans and foodbanks.
The private company he hired to do the dirty work, ATOS, declared many people with life-threatening conditions ‘fit to work’ – including one woman, Linda Wootton, who died nine days after being told she had to get on her bike and find a job. The switch to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) compounded the misery, forcing thousands of people with serious disabilities to wait months for a decision. I remember going to one meeting in which a disabled woman stood up and said that, if the Tories couldn’t be brought down, she saw no other option than to take her own life, as she didn’t see herself surviving another five years. Compassionate Conservatism in action.
On top of all this, he has frequently been called out for lying about statistics to suit his agenda, and his entire reign has been marked by the most stunning incompetence. Oh yes, and his expenses credit card was blocked as he ran up a £1000 debt to the public purse- easy to do, I suppose, when he expects us to pay for his underpants.
But IDS wasn’t sacked – he resigned, criticising Cameron and Osborne for ‘political’ cuts not in the ‘interest of the national economy’. There are two options here: either IDS has found a conscience where we all assumed there was just a vortex of pure evil, or he has calculated his theatrics to inflict maximum damage on the government.
It seems quite clear that the latter is the case, and that his latest exercise in deception and drivel is nothing whatsoever to do with feeling bad about pushing the most vulnerable people in society into even more grinding poverty, and everything to do with making a power grab as part of the pro-Brexit Tory faction.
Much debate has been had on the left about how to vote in the upcoming EU referendum; for now, we can all just look on in satisfaction at the self-destructive flailing of the most repulsive representatives of the ruling class, divided over whether ‘in’ or ‘out’ will afford more opportunities for accumulating wealth and scapegoating migrants.
Doubtless, in the coming days we will analyse this more carefully to understand what it all means and what opportunities it offers both the radical and reformist left. But make no mistake: this could bring the government down. Not immediately, perhaps, but you know what they say – divided parties don’t win elections.
What is most important now is that we use every opportunity to ratchet up the pressure. IDS has dropped the Tories in the shit; now we have to rub their faces in it.