The Blog

Internecine Tory Warfare to Go With the Recurrent Habit of Defeat

Last week's National Apprenticeship Week was full of discussion. We heard about the productivity gains of hiring apprentices, and concerns around the gender divide. We celebrated the amazing things apprentices have achieved, and heard from business leaders who are pledging to create more apprenticeships.

Ian Duncan Smiths's unexpected resignation as DWP Minister last Friday has opened up the existing fissures and rivalries that always existed in the Conservative Party, but which David Cameron had somewhat hopefully thought had been overcome, in a way no one could seriously have expected.

Duncan Smith himself oversaw a merciless and unrelenting war on the poor in his 6 years in office. Mass 'sanctioning', mass workfare, and the shredding of the dignity of the sick and disabled who were continuously and magically found 'fit for work', despite thousands of deaths and suicides following such outcomes showing otherwise, will be his legacy as well as a proselytizing Victorian workhouse ideology of the 'deserving and undeserving poor', direct from Thomas Malthus. As such, the narrative that he suddenly realised the Tory punishment meted out to the poorest and inflicting of suffering on the most vulnerable in society were 'too much', is unconvincing at best.

Chancellor and would-be successor to Cameron, George Osborne had demanded yet more austerity cuts in last week's budget, across all government departments including from the DWP. In this case, the targeted and wholly political cuts were to be made to Personal Independence Payments (PIPs), a minimal and ever more elusive payment made to those coping with serious disability. Duncan Smith had previously agreed to just such draconian cuts along with cuts of £30 per week to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) the other sickness and disability benefit, defeated twice by the Lords - including both Cross Bench and Tory Peers - but passed again by the Commons, where Tory MPs did not share the more worldly view of the Peers from their party: : it is not a pretty sight.

Duncan Smith's out-of-the-blue resignation likely has other reasons, but whatever those may be, it has opened up the serious fissures that were always thinly veiled in the modern Conservative Party. It should not be overlooked however, that a significant further defeat has been suffered by Cameron and co. by Osborne having to drop his proposed PIP cuts: the number of Tory backbenchers declaring that they were planning to vote against the government helping with that, as well as setting the battle lines for Tory civil war.

Not known for his humility or ability to accept defeat, Osborne's leadership plans look to be remote now, if not finished, this remoteness of what had previously been taken as likely if not given being Cameron's preferred successor no less. The Tory government of 2016 now appears weaker than it has done at any point in the past 12 months since it scraped a surprise majority at last year's general election, something Labour would do well to remember especially 6 weeks off the London Mayoral and local elections.

Labour could capitalize on Tory disarray, but it remains to be seen whether they will or not, taking a break from their own internal split between the party base led by Jeremy Corbyn and the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) of MPs mostly oblivious to needing to do anything differently to regain power, or that they will not regain it by offering only a copy of what is currently in government, seemingly being unaware that New Labour is no more, and has been no more for almost 6 years.

Indeed, the hastily called and ill-thought out referendum on the UK's EU membership called by David Cameron for the 23rd June, had already thrown a floodlight on the longstanding Tory schism over Europe, that now looks to be helping cause an actual crisis for the party but Duncan Smith's resignation has made further schisms and factional claims and counter claims over his 'actual' reasons, as for the receding likelihood of Osborne's leadership ambitions immediately apparent.

The worsening global economic outlook is already being spun by Osborne as being a further reason for unending austerity and his vain attempt to set a trap for Labour and any incoming future government alike, by claiming the UK should set itself apart from any other advanced economy and not just 'clear the deficit', but run a surplus. Such vainglorious efforts to frame his succession as Prime Minister appear modest and unassuming however when compared to the limitless ambition and glib populism of Boris Johnson, as the Conservative Party descends into internecine and bloody warfare.

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