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Tory Tax Credit Rebels Forgot to Rebel

23/10/2015 16:24 BST | Updated 22/10/2016 10:12 BST

Monday's parliamentary debate on tax credits saw some apparently heartfelt contributions from all parties.

None were perhaps as surprising as those from Tory MPs who tried to warn Chancellor George Osborne and PM David Cameron against cutting support for workers.

The party has spent so much energy developing its illogical 'strivers v skivers' story - as if unemployed people are a separate breed none of whom have ever worked - that turning on a sixpence and attacking workers' incomes only reveals the truth they wanted to hide: that they are driven by the ideological desire for a small state and don't care whether they hugely increase poverty in Britain.

Some Conservatives apparently recognised that this risked undoing the central mission of the government, or at least the one they admit to, which can be boiled down to the idea of 'moral austerity', having made so clear that those in jobs are meant to be considered 'good' and should therefore be exempt from the most devastating cuts.

The new MP for Cambridgeshire South, Heidi Allen, garnered plenty of publicity for using her maiden speech in the House of Commons to call tax credit cuts a "betrayal" of Tory values, saying:

"It is right that people are encouraged to strive for self-reliance and find work that pays for their independence from the state but I worry that our single-minded determination to reach a budget surplus is betraying who we are."

A welcome move, you might think, as was the contribution of fellow Tory MP Johnny Mercer, who said:

"Those who through no fault of their own find themselves on the fringes of society, those who through a bit of bad luck, a couple of wrong decisions can be any one of us."

But for all Allen's hand wringing, straight after the debate she voted in favour of reducing tax credits, as did Mercer.

Actually opposing the proposal is apparently optional, whereas getting your face on the telly and in other media is a major priority. The BBC helped in this respect, devoting space to describing details of the speeches while relegating the news that no Tory MP voted against the bill to a footnote.

This public posturing sits alongside David Cameron's speech to the recent Tory party conference, in which he promised to tackle poverty particularly for those with jobs:

"So let the message go out: if you work hard, want to get on, want more money at the end of the month the party for you is right here in this hall."

Clearly tax credit cuts, which the independent think tank the IFS has shown will actually make most poor people worse off even when changes to wages and tax allowances are taken into account, give the lie to this statement.

Public posturing is not the same as truth, a lesson that appears to have been learnt by backbenchers directly from their leader.

Too many Tory MPs appear to believe that speaking out against a policy provides cover for their consciences, and that actually trying to stop it is not required.

In-work poverty will only increase as a result, giving the poorest people in the UK only different but equally-bad options.