The Blog

Following His Resignation IDS Confirms that Pathology Not Economics Underpins Tory Austerity

Today's economic mauling of the poor and the vulnerable has ushered into being a brutal dystopia for those at the bottom of society and a wondrous utopia for those at the top.

Iain Duncan Smith is on course to earning a place in history as someone who not only once led the Conservative Party but who also brought down a Conservative government. His interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr was more than explosive it was a political earthquake, shaking the Tory establishment to its core as he confirmed what generations of bitter opponents of the Tories and its policies already knew - namely that when stripped of pretence this is a party that represents the political expression of the contempt for the lives and wellbeing of the poor that resides in the heart of society's rich and privileged.

The former Work and Pensions Secretary's decision to break ranks over the Government's messianic commitment to austerity, even to the point of throwing the disabled under the bus in order to continue handing tax cuts to middle income and higher earners, not only marks the beginning of the end of Cameron's government, it also leaves the Blairite project of toppling Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party in tatters. Despite being undermined openly and witheringly from within the PLP from the second he was elected leader last summer on an unprecedented mandate, and in the face of a a media assault of Olympian magnitude and intensity, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have been vindicated in putting anti-austerity economics at the forefront of Labour's attempt to recover from the party's crushing defeat at the last general election. In this regard Corbyn's riposte to the Chancellor's Budget Speech in the Commons not only landed heavy blows on a Tory Party already in disarray over Europe, it also drove a stake through the heart of any attempt to return Labour to the embrace of Blairism as a feasible alternative to the path he and his shadow chancellor have charted for the party as it rebuilds and rediscovers renewed purpose.

For the Tories, the resignation of IDS guarantees a leadership contest after the EU referendum in June, whatever the result, with Cameron's fellow Old Etonian Boris Johnson ready to step forward. However, nobody at this stage should bet against Iain Duncan Smith deciding to stand. His stance against "morally indefensible" cuts to disability benefits is the very stuff of successful leadership challenges, capable of attracting the support of Tory backbenchers facing the prospect of losing their seats should an early and snap general election follow if Cameron falls. What is certain is that the wheels have come off the Cameron and Osborne partnership as the theological and ideological foundations of austerity (it was never about economics) begin to crumble.

Even on its own terms Tory austerity has failed. How could it be otherwise when the Chancellor, George Osborne, repeatedly failing to meet his own fiscal targets. While Osborne may have been able to point the finger at his Lib-Dem coalition partners during the last government as an impediment to his austerity programme, thus excusing this failure to meet key fiscal targets, that option no longer exists. With the Lib-Dems no longer a factor, Osborne has been given a free hand to aggressively target deficit reduction. However instead of confirming him as a steady and sure hand of the nation's finances, it has him on set him well on course for being adjudged one of the worst-performing chancellors of the exchequer ever to occupy Number 11 Downing Street. It also means that any chance he may have had of laying his own claim to succeeding his close friend, David Cameron, has ended.

The fact it was IDS who resigned, a minister who more than any other came to symbolise the Government's callous disregard for the poor and vulnerable even as they were being subjected to find workk, compounds the extent to which austerity and humanity can no longer morally or rationally co-exist.

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis aptly described austerity as "fiscal waterboarding." Even worse than its material impact on the lives of its victims is its psychological impact, pitching them into a vortex of chaos as they struggle to keep body and soul together. Accompanying their struggle to do so in Britain over the past few years has been the jeers of right wing tabloids and television broadcasters competing with one another to come up with the most sensationalised and unsympathetic depiction of people claiming benefits, replicating the role of spectators jeering people being mauled to death by lions in the Roman arena.

Today's economic mauling of the poor and the vulnerable has ushered into being a brutal dystopia for those at the bottom of society and a wondrous utopia for those at the top. Convincing enough people occupying the rungs of the social and economic ladder just above the very bottom rung to support them has been key to its success in doing so. Here we see the fruits of a carefully calibrated and vicious campaign of demonisation of people claiming benefits, a campaign that has at times come close to qualifying as a hate crime.

In a society which claims to be civilised the most important metric of government policy is its impact on the lives of those it affects most. The devastating impact of austerity on its victims, combined with inarguable evidence that it hasn't worked and doesn't work, has turned its shrinking band of adherents into something approaching a millenarian cult.

The UK economy has been crying out for an investment led alternative to the status quo ever since the economic crisis took hold almost a decade a go. Yet over the past three decades, with the demise of social democracy and its Keynesian economic twin as a viable alternative to the rampaging domination of neoliberalism across the global economic and political landscape, words such as 'deficit' and 'borrowing' have been allowed to assume the mantle of blasphemy, guaranteeing the obloquy of any politician or political party that dare consider them invaluable tools of economic policy.

The most obvious casualty of the crushing defeat of social democracy that took place in the 1980s was the Labour Party, which under Tony Blair's leadership continued a march to the right begun under Neil Kinnock after the 1992 election defeat. In the process the keys to the country's economic fortunes were handed to the City of London, raising bankers to the status of masters of the universe. Meanwhile the trade union movement was ruthlessly and cruelly kicked to the kerb, abandoned by the very political party it midwifed into existence at the turn of the last century as the new religion swept all before it.

But now, in 2016, the wheel has turned. Blairism and Tony Blair have come to represent everything rotten about the political establishment, emblematic of the cynicism, careerism, and opportunism that has fuelled the rise of anti politics as the new normal in a society that is sick with inequality and social and economic injustice.

Purifying the poor with pain - implementing swingeing cuts to the benefits and public services upon which they depend and reducing their existence to a level incompatible with a civilised society, while incentivising the rich, whose greed propelled the country and the global economy into the chaos it is still struggling to escape - is no longer credible or acceptable. The most compelling evidence of this is Corbyn's spectacular rise from backbench obscurity to leader of the opposition last summer, and the subsequent hammering he has endured from both sides of the House. We are now seeing evidence that rather than destroy it this drubbing has only served to strengthen his leadership, however, as it begins to turn a party that bore all the hallmarks of a Thatherite tribute band back to one founded as the political expression of collectivist ideas. It is proof that though severely weakened, the bonds of social solidarity that constitute the philosophical foundations of the welfare state have survived as the last redoubt of common decency in a landscape of poisonous cultural values dominated by greed and individualism.

It allows us to hope that one day foodbanks will take their rightful place alongside the gibbet as a relic of the nation's medieval past.