Coffee House

Iain Duncan Smith was defending welfare reform from his own colleagues as well as the Left

23 January 2014

7:56 PM

23 January 2014

7:56 PM

Compassionate Conservatism has taken a bit of a kicking in the past few months: from leftwing critics who want to claim it is dead (but who always disagreed with its central premise anyway) and from certain Conservatives such as George Osborne who prefer a nice political dividing line. But today, as previewed in the Spectator last week, Iain Duncan Smith restated the need for this key strand of Tory thinking, and he set it firmly within the Conservative reforming tradition, saying:

‘As Conservatives, that is part of our Party’s historic mission – just look at Wilberforce and Shaftesbury – to put hope back where it has gone, to give people from chaotic lives security through hard work… helping families to improve the quality of their own lives.’

Some might dismiss this as grandiose, and others as blinkered to the reality of what the Conservatives are doing in government (it is striking that ministers tend to describe the ‘bedroom tax’ as ‘Lord Freud’s policy’, and if Universal Credit were the only indicator of the health of Compassionate Conservatism, then it would be requiring urgent medical attention). But what IDS is saying here is that this is an indispensable part of Conservatism: and it needs defending. It is significant that even those Tory MPs demoralised by the reality of government consistently name IDS and Michael Gove as the signs of radicalism that keep them going.


Indeed, other ministers want to follow their example. I wrote in August that Jeremy Hunt is modelling himself on Michael Gove in his own mission to be the ‘patients’ champion’, and James’s politics column today reveals the next step in that mission: plans for every patient in hospital to have a named doctor looking after them for their whole stay.

Duncan Smith today continued to defend his mission from colleagues, advising against ‘finger-wagging’ and being ‘judgemental’ and blaming those caught in the system. But there’s another interesting similarity when it comes to language between Hunt, Gove and IDS: all three are concerned with trying to wrestle the moral high ground from Labour. This was particularly clear at the Conservatives’ autumn conference, when one afternoon in particular was focused almost entirely on the moral high ground.

But IDS has had to defend welfare reform far more than Gove and Hunt have had to fight their corners on schools and the NHS. Some of this is for a good reason: the number of Cabinet ministers and Number 10 bigwigs who really would bet more than 50p on the Universal Credit is dwindling. But as much as he was reminding everyone today that ‘we would have wanted to reform the welfare state, even if we had no deficit’, the Work and Pensions Secretary was also defending his central mission against the planned future attack from the Chancellor on benefits. Who was he more concerned about defending his welfare reform from – the openly opposed Left, or his own colleagues? It’s not quite clear, but the latter is certainly the harder task.

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Show comments
  • Monkey_Bach

    Anybody who believes that Universal Credit is compassionate needs their bumps feeling and “Compassionate Conservatism” is surely the best example of an oxymoron extant. IDS and Freud have killed hundreds of times more helpless British citizens by means of their botched package of “welfare reforms” than the Taliban in Afghanistan or insurgents in Iraq have killed by the bullet, blade, or bomb.

  • paul oxley

    Compassion is an indespensible part of Conservatism
    says the delightful but deluded Ms H

    From the General Strike through to the resistance to
    setting up the NHS onto the Miners Strike lies and
    use of the police as State bully boys, the Hillsborough
    smears and cover up and through to the current day
    attempts to destroy seemingly any vestige of society
    with the most blatant attacks ever on the NHS and
    the Welfare State from a party dont forget
    mandate at all and that hasnt won a majority for 22
    years in Britain

    Is there ANY evidence of compassionate and conservatism
    mixing at all in any meaningful sense.

    Of course not Theresa May was spot.on..The Nasty
    Party…always has been….always will be

  • Donafugata

    I’m sure IDS has the best intentions to simplify and save on the complex and over-generous legacy of Gordon Brown but when will the new system manifest itself?

    The benefit system is as bad as ever, the changes, if any, are imperceptible and , the scroungers carry on collecting, so stout is their raft.

    Vast numbers need to be herded into work but should be fairly rewarded, the benefits of the skivers should be confiscated and given to the low paid. Those who are chroniclly work resistant should be starved into submission or oblivion.

    • Bob Fossil

      To plug all those gaps in the labour market?

  • Pip

    IDS is an nasty odious and inept MP and is unfit to be a Government Minister, always was and always will be and his position merely reflects on Camerons poor judgement.

  • Alexsandr

    how can anyone discus welfare without discussing the people who have to pay for it.
    we must remember many on very modest incomes are hit with quite a lot of tax and NI. Part of welfare has to be getting the lower paid a better deal on tax.

  • David Ganz

    Not to mention Atos is moral cowardice, or bigotry.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Don’t blame ATOS who are just in business. Blame the arrival of the “decision maker” in the civil service and the complete withdrawal of powers of discretion from those in direct contact with the public, whether DWP clerks or police constables. The “decision makers” are faceless, unaccountable and shielded from the impact of their decisions. And they may “use other information” in coming to their decisions, as the Rotherham SS demonstrated.

      • r3dsub

        Decision makers are the fall guy for the gutless IDS.

  • London Calling

    As long as those on benefits are not crucified for sadistic pleasure as Fraser says in the Telegraph…Benefits street portrays claimants in a poor light, but this is not the whole picture and we must remember that………….in my view cutting welfare is not going to help anyone………helping people back into work is……….I cringe when I see blatant stereotyping by the media of people less fortunate in society, its all to common nowadays to stick the knife in in a negative way………….:(

    • HookesLaw

      its left wing Ch 4 running the programme. But I agree it seems to me to be a part of a general trend in voyeuristic programming for the lowest common denominator. In this respect the poor are not being particularly picked on. Its all part of TV being happy to behave like small boys pulling the wings off flies.

      In terms of cutting welfare and helping people I think Labour’s Frank Field had a fair and honest opinion. He talked sense. He talked too much sense for Gordon Brown.
      Field is of course quite tactless in telling the truth as he sees it. A pity such a skill is not more appreciated.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Don’t forget. Television is primarily entertainment. The most highly paid performers are the clowns. The written word i where the thinking, if any, gets done. An hour of television is about a page of print (with pictures it is true)..

    • Andy

      Problem is whenever anyone suggests reforming the Welfare State in any meaningful way we always get the cries from the vested interests defending their turf. ‘Benefits Street’ is not unique – there are hundreds of those places up and down the land – and while it may not be the ‘whole picture’ it is nevertheless part of the picture, which is something far too many on the Left are unable and unwilling to admit. Maybe the Welfare State has helped to create these places and the attitudes you find. Helping people back into work is the key to this and that is exactly what IDS’s reforms are designed to do, and they are starting to work. We should all be ashamed – deeply ashamed – that so many people have been condemned to idleness and aimless lives.

      • Bob Fossil

        “Maybe the Welfare State has helped to create these places and the attitudes you find.”

        The welfare state is somehow to blame for the demise of unskilled labour work & the overall decline in manufacturing jobs in the UK, etc?

  • manonthebus

    Obviously the main political parties are vying with each other to pretend to offer the best welfare-based policy to the 2015 voters. Mr Iain Duncan-Smith is doing his level best, meanwhile, to actually do something, rather than just spout about it. he sad fact,however, is that its the welfare state that is hastening Britain’s decline in a very competitive world. Whilst other major economies are gearing up to succeed, we are merely trying to share out money we do not have in a nice, cuddly fair way.

    • HookesLaw

      oh hang on a minute… obviously?
      Wasn’t Osborne saying only the other day that he wanted to cut a further 12 billion out of welfare budget?

      What is so ‘obvious’ about the tories ‘vying’ with the other two about giving the best’ deal there?

      On reflection the only ‘obvious’ thing sticking out a mile here is you do not know what you are talking about and are making it up as you go along.

  • Daedalus

    The IDS reforms MUST be allowed to carry on and should be allowed to go as far is needed to help people come off benefits. It cannot be seen to be penalising those who are really in need; but other government departments need to be brought into the fold. At the moment they aren’t from what we can see as voters. This comes down to “superior ministers” not sharing in the whole vision and they need to.


    • telemachus

      With the exception of IDS Ministers serve their careers

    • HookesLaw

      I agree. The worry that the critics have is that the universal credit will not work.
      It seems to me the principle is right. But as to the problems of implementing it I cannot say.
      But I think you need to clarify what you mean about other departments brought into the fold.

  • telemachus

    IDS is one of the few in the coalition who both thinks and cares
    The fact that his conclusions are misplaced does not detract from the fact that he is the only one in the Cabinet with a heart

    • Colonel Mustard

      Really? An extraordinary assertion.

      • telemachus

        But you cannot deny it

        • Colonel Mustard

          I am not privy to the examination of the chest cavity of each member of the cabinet necessary to prove it beyond doubt but take as my guide the empirical evidence that they exist and breathe, ergo they must have a pulse and therefore a heart.

          So yes, I guess I can deny it.

          On the other hand the question of whether you have a brain must be under serious doubt.

        • r3dsub

          10.600 dead within six weeks of being declared fit for work and you say this vile man has a heart, he also has stopped the FOI requests to conceal further revelations of his cruelly towards the sick and disabled.

    • BarkingAtTreehuggers

      On my day off from barking at treehuggers and blaming them for our energy crisis I have found time to appreciate your hilarious insight.

      • telemachus

        IDS could well continue his good work when Ed takes over in 2015

        • BarkingAtTreehuggers