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Interpreting Iain Duncan Smith's Resignation

21/03/2016 13:11 | Updated 19 March 2017

With the happy news that Iain Duncan Smith has resigned from his post as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will come much speculation as to how this move should be interpreted. To take the words in his resignation letter at face value is not simply difficult, but impossible. For a man who has never been known to exhibit much concern for the impoverished beyond his dubious justifications for making the poor even poorer, the worry he expressed over disability cuts seems profoundly uncharacteristic.

That his resignation should occur at a time when backbench Tory MP's are in open revolt at George Osborne's plans to cut the Personal Independent Payment is not insignificant. Osborne presumably gambled on the ''I'm alright Jack'' mentality - popularised by and enduring to some considerable extent since Mrs Thatcher's premiership - winning the day. He overestimated its appeal. Widespread solidarity with the disabled, already evident after the callous decision by parliament to reduce ESA by £30 per week has now reached critical levels for the government.

A social media campaign to name and shame the offending MP's who voted for the aforementioned cut emerged practically upon the vote's outcome, and has persisted since. Several Tory MP's (including mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith) have been forced to step down as patrons of disability charities. It's no secret the Tories are on the back foot. The backbenchers engaging in open revolt are fearful for their jobs - their concerns are almost certainly electoral in nature, not ethical. How many of them balked at preceding cuts?

That IDS was given the job he was to begin with is testament to David Cameron's intellect. Making him the face of the DWP - probably the most despised department in all of government - was a calculated move. For a rather stupid and already universally hated figure he was the perfect appointment for which to reform the welfare system. In the rather likely event that the government might one day bite off more than it could chew (and more than the public could stomach) he would also make the perfect fall-guy.

So comes his 'resignation'. It remains possible that the words in IDS' resignation letter genuinely came from his own pen, but this seems improbable in the extreme. The man personifies arrogance. He oozes privilege. As attractive as the notion that even he could be overcome with a sudden attack of conscience, those with a more discerning nature than the average doorstop are going to look elsewhere for explanations.

Here's one - IDS did not resign but was pushed. In the face of a public backlash the government needed a cabinet minister to martyr himself, therefore giving the appearance that a moral conscience does exist at the forefront of the Conservative Party. David Cameron makes every appearance of seeming sorrowful at the loss of his valued Secretary of State, the government reverses its decision on cutting disability benefits and the public is appeased, with IDS' self-sacrifice eventually being rewarded (perhaps in the form of a seat in the House of Lords). Put simply his resignation is a public relations stunt, its aim being to restore faith in a party which continues to lose ground to an opposition with an allegedly unelectable leader.

Too inconceivable? In the event that the words did come from his own pen, another theory presents itself - cynically capitalising on the discontent at Osborne's budget, IDS resigns to further damage the chancellor's reputation thus damaging the Tory 'Remain' side in the process. This theory threatens to credit IDS with the capability of dreaming up such a cunning scheme, as well as deploying it with perfect timing. To many it will seem unlikely that he possesses such keenness of judgement. If achieving Brexit is his real motivation behind resigning it's likely that he's receiving direction from fellow Eurosceptics within Tory ranks.

Whatever the reasons for IDS' departure from the Tory front bench it's fun to speculate as to his motives. No speculation is required, however, when observing that the government is in a state of disarray. Confidence in Osborne's ability to manage the economy has never been as self-evidently lacking. Jeremy Corbyn's performance at the despatch box on Wednesday was his strongest yet, looking every bit a real Labour leader. The austerity narrative is finally being meaningfully punctured from the front bench of the opposition. If Labour maintains this level of pressure it can expect to do rather better than its critics predict in the upcoming local elections.