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Monday, March 21, 2016 

A sight for sore eyes (and minds).

Is there a finer sight for sore eyes than the Conservative party in full on civil war mode?  Forget Jodorowosky's Holy Mountain, witnessing the Tories scratching away at retinas, tearing out throats, calling each other idiots and screaming about sanctimony, especially after months of Labour's massively inferior equivalent has been like waking up from a coma, wiping away the built up sleep and seeing the world anew.  It's not just that seeing the party of government fall apart within the space of a couple of days, and over the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith of all people has been so wickedly delicious, it's that it's also demolished media constructs regarded as unassailable fact until they suddenly crumbled into dust.  Like how George Osborne is a tactical genius when it's been apparent for a very long time that he's all politics and no awareness.  And how the Tories will rule in perpetuity, despite their being just as divided as Labour, with only power holding them together.

You can to an extent understand just how discombobulated the likes of Matthew d'Anconservative have been by IDS flouncing out at this stage in proceedings.  If we are to accept IDS's sudden, almost Damascene realisation that he's in a government which is doing over the poorest and most vulnerable in order to keep the upper middle and above in the style to which they have become accustomed, then you have to first presume that IDS was possessed between 2010 and last year.  Who was this man who otherwise looked liked IDS, who as the Graun has it, was one of the most gross incompetents to ever hold the position of work and pensions secretary?  If it was him, he certainly kept his feelings about how the very policies he was instituting were affecting those who would never vote Tory but need protecting regardless.  Did he not read his own party's manifesto, which was explicit on how if returned to government they would raise the 40p tax threshold, increase the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million and carry on with corporation tax cuts while slashing £12bn from the welfare budget?  Sure, perhaps he like the rest of us didn't think his party would win a majority and so introduce those policies, but then again, was he still under possession when he cheered Osborne's living wage as those cuts were announced in last year's budget?  In his Marr interview IDS insisted he had considered going last year over very similar concerns then, only to back down.

IDS claimed to be motivated only by social justice, ensuring everyone gets a fair start in life.  You can quibble about whether IDS's chosen motives would in practice achieve this, but let's take him at his word.  The fact is that universal credit has been and is a disaster, made worse without doubt by how Osborne has repeatedly raided it, and yet it's IDS's baby, his policy.  You can't achieve the goals you want to if the system itself is a failure, as UC is.  Rather than take seriously the many criticisms made, IDS has acted with spite throughout, as he has when challenged on workfare, the bedroom tax, and all the rest.  To judge by the defence given by other ministers in the DWP, with the exception of the laughable Ros Altmann, independent pensions "expert" turned gatekeeper, he ran a tight team.  It only reinforces the belief that IDS had managed to convince both himself and his underlings that he was achieving great things while doing the exact opposite.

Who then was the one dragging his work down, who was undermining everything he thought he was working towards?  George Osborne, aided by Cameron at every step.  Last week's budget, with Cameron letting Osborne make the academies announcement, the sexing up of the OBR's remarks on the EU, the giveaways to the middle classes and above meant to keep them sweet, all was designed to speed Osborne on to the leadership.  IDS it's true doesn't have any leadership ambitions himself, but few assassins are after the top job themselves.  When you then have David Davis repeating the lines established by IDS, that this isn't a government dedicated to fairness, a claim echoed by right-wingers and overwhelmingly pro-Brexit MPs who two weeks ago delighted in supporting the changes to ESA, then you'd have to be a fool to see there isn't something else going on.

And yet many journalists spent yesterday telling the world just how convinced they were by IDS claiming this was purely about his no longer being able to put up with balancing the books on the backs of the poorest.  The Graun, after nailing IDS in a likely hastily written Friday night leader today pompously intones that "impugning motives is no way of dealing with arguments".  While it has obviously been novel to a hear a resigned cabinet minister contradict the Tory spin on how they are one nation party devoted to providing security to all regardless of background, you get the impression that hacks themselves had fallen into believing the lie.  Or if they hadn't personally, they imagine the public have.  That those who did vote for the Tories might have done so not because they were promising to provide security for all at the same time as walloping scroungers, but because they were promising to wallop scroungers doesn't seem to have registered.

Little wonder Cameron apparently called IDS a "shit" in their tete-a-tete on Friday.  He and Osborne came up with this winning formula, soaking those most likely to vote while doing little to nothing to help those who don't, and here's this incompetent attacking them for doing what they said they would!  When you have right-wingers attacking social liberals for being too economically right-wing, something is up.  That IDS and others lining up behind him are right on this occasion, pointing out Osborne has become a liability who shouldn't be getting the help he is doesn't make them right on anything else.  Their aim is to damage Osborne fatally, while also undermining Cameron on the EU vote by making clear his authority is waning.  Staying in doesn't look as secure an option when the man making the argument is no longer looking as solid himself.

Osborne certainly has come out of this looking once again the knave.  From the moment it was briefed in advance that cuts to PIP would be made in order to fund giveaways to the well-off it was apparent how this would turn out.  Not even Labour in its current state could fail to score presented with such an open goal.  What possibly made the Treasury think, having u-turned previously on tax credits, that the same wouldn't end up being the case when they were specifically targeting the disabled?  This wasn't a budget where it took a day or two to unravel; it was already an obvious dog as he sat down having delivered it.  Nor having spent the first part of his speech blaming foreigners and Labour for what he was having to announce can he do so without being laughed at.  The mess he's in is down to the fiscal charter, meant to trap Labour but now traps him, and the welfare cap, for which ditto.  He can't cut tax credits, so going after the disabled was the only other option that would have brought in the needed money to get his surplus.

He did nonetheless make the right choice in deciding not to go to the Commons to answer the urgent question on the unravelling of the budget.  He looks a coward, but considering he only has one apparent mode of communication, which is smarm, smirk and wind up, sending David Gauke was the likely better option.  Cameron then came along and did his best to calm everyone down, which has likely temporarily put a lid on things.  Make no mistake though: the past couple of days are only the first rumblings of what we can expect to transpire as the referendum approaches, and once Cameron announces the date for his stepping down.  There is no obvious successor, let alone an idea of what a post-austerity Conservative party will be for.  Nothing is written, nothing is set in stone, all is still to play for.  Plus, how glorious it is to be reminded of the enjoyment there is to be had when a party other than your own spontaneously combusts.

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