Seconds after Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation as Secretary of State for Department of Work and Pensions, Twitter was alive as ever with angry remarks. The victim of the vitriol this time? IDS and the Tory approach to welfare.
Two consecutive tweets I stumbled upon were particularly fun. Dick Mackintosh helpfully enlightened our foreign friends: ‘If you’re not from Britain and you are wondering who Iain Duncan Smith is .. he’s Britain’s most notorious serial killer #IainDuncanSmith’.
And ‘smash shaky’ (who has clearly lost his computer’s shift, full stop and comma keys) was even more insightful: ‘iain duncan smith thinks these cuts are too far and he literally cuts homeless ppl up and blends them into smoothies to maintain immortality’.
Now these are two tweets from a couple of trolls in a country of 64 million people. But they branch from a widely held view: The Tories are against the poor and vulnerable in society.
Is there any substance to this claim? Well, I think we could list Tory achievements in areas of equality, welfare, employment and wage growth in the last 5 years and end the article here. But I don’t want to assess the success of Tory welfare policy, compare it to Labour’s track record, and get bogged down in the nitty-gritty of ‘whose welfare formula wins’. These tactics don’t usually work well on ‘smash shaky’-types, and is not the issue I want to dwell on.
What I want to do is assess what is behind the divergence in welfare policy between Labour and the Tories. Is it, as so many think, that one cares for those at the bottom of society, and the other cares for those at the top? Is welfare provision a right and necessary public service in one camp or a budget burden in the other?
I think ‘smash shaky’ is too caught up on the methods for achieving the Tories’ vision for a better society than the actual results. He sees cuts and reforms, presumes they are merely cost reduction exercises, and can therefore jovially claim IDS blends homeless people ‘into smoothies to maintain immortality’.
What he might not know is that in 2004 IDS set up the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). The CSJ was founded to explore real ways in which British society can be transformed, helping people trapped on benefits, those locked out of work, communities marred by drug and alcohol addiction, and people caught in debt and criminality. The CSJ works closely with the Government and the DWP, informing and advising welfare reforms for the good of society. Importantly, recent welfare reforms the Government have been pursuing did not come from George Osborne the cuts-King, but were created within the confines of a think-tank working to give everyone the opportunity to reach their full potential.
You may not agree with these reforms and their ability to help the poor and vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean you have the reform-makers sussed out. IDS, the DWP and the Tories are not against the worst-off. The Tories and Labour both want a better society, the means to the ends might vary, but the goal is the same.
As the finalists of the 2012 London Olympics 100m sprint psyched themselves up for the race, their goal was the same – get to the finish line first. But that doesn’t mean their preparations or training were identical. After winning, we heard that Usain Bolt had eaten a McDonald’s for breakfast. I’m sure many would argue he’d have been better off eating quinoa and chia seeds – but he still won.
The point is that the Tories and Labour have the same goal when it comes to governance; to better peoples lives. But their methods differ. When you view it like this, you can’t slander the Tories, because – and if you asked MPs they would be very passionate about this – they genuinely believe their methods and reforms will help people the most. Beyond welfare it’s still true. The post-credit crunch cuts across departments have had massive impacts, but is it kinder to cut the deficit now than burden future generations with debt? Again, both the Tories and Labour differ on deficit reduction and borrowing, but they want the same thing – a happy and prosperous nation.
At this stage it is important to recognise that despite their noble aspirations both parties often get it very wrong. They often spend too little or too much on totally the wrong things. This is why we have an Opposition, why we have the Lords – why we vote altogether. IDS of all people knew this, and his resignation was an indication that he thought the goal of a better society for all had been lost. As he finished his resignation letter, ‘I hope as the government goes forward you can look again, however, at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure “we are all in this together”’.
Thanks to backbenchers who haven’t lost sight of the end goal, the Tories have looked again, and it seems that the disability benefit cuts will be reversed. This is good news of course, and an area of welfare in which both parties should agree on – but the fact remains that they won’t always agree on policy, because there are many paths to the same end. And to claim that IDS and the Tories are immoral because they’ve chosen to go down one route is self-righteous fiction.