The Moral Mission Of Iain Duncan Smith

Any leftists taking a break from singing “Ding, dong, the witch is dead!” following the recent resignation of Iain Duncan Smith from the cabinet might want to invest 50 seconds watching this video.

Guido points out:

Filmed in December, well before his resignation, before the cynics cry foul. Anyone doubting whether IDS’ moral mission was genuine should watch.

It’s not about Evil Tories hating the poor and the sick and wanting them to suffer. It was never about that. Some on the left may find it quicker and easier to caricature the politics and philosophy of those with whom they disagree, but I don’t think that any sane, rational person can now look at what Iain Duncan Smith tried to do at the Department for Work and Pensions and say that he was in any way motivated by malice.

When the Left are willing to come to the debate with suggestions of their own for welfare reform (besides chucking more money at the same broken system), we can have a debate – and sometimes perhaps even find common ground, through radical ideas like universal basic income.

When the Left are able to stop virtue-signalling and begin with the assumption that conservatives are not evil but simply have different ideas for how to achieve a just and fair society, we can have a healthy debate on the issues even if we rarely achieve a real meeting of minds.

Or, you know, they can just keep shouting about the heartless Tory scum.


Iain Duncan Smith - Tory Scum - Conservative Party - Nazis

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What Conservative Government? – Part 4, Iain Duncan Smith Resignation

Iain Duncan Smith - IDS - Resignation

How many more ideologically principled, Thatcher-style conservatives can David Cameron’s centrist political machine afford to alienate?

There is a telling line in James Kirkup’s excellent, fair assessment of the full context behind Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation:

The Prime Minister has already done things that will underpin his eventual legacy: winning the Scottish independence referendum and the general election.

Kirkup probably meant this as praise, but in reality it is the most damning indictment of the current conservative government imaginable – far worse than anything that Iain Duncan Smith said in his resignation letter.

Because it is quite true – some of the greatest accomplishments of David Cameron and his core team of loyalists since 2010 are avoiding having the country disintegrate on their watch, and managing to win a second general election against a historically weak Labour leader pursuing a transparently flawed strategy. If the bar for success in British government has truly been set so low then we are in real trouble.

But David Cameron is not a visionary leader. He came to power in 2010 promising to get Britain through difficult economic times, and was re-elected in 2015 promising to be a reasonably competent Comptroller of Public Services. And to be fair to the man, he never really promised to be a great statesman or a formidable world leader.

Being a doggedly centrist technocrat is all well and good, but eventually people quite rightly start to ask what your government is for, besides acquiring the reins of power and then keeping hold of them for as long as possible. David Cameron’s best answer – the main headline from the Conservative Party’s 2015 general election manifesto – was that we should vote Tory because they have a “plan for every stage of your life“.

Nobody within the Conservative Party seemed to care that this sounded alarmingly socialist and suggestive of the Nanny State – people craved security above freedom, it was believed, and so that’s what would be promised and delivered. More of the status quo, whether the status quo worked well or not.

In other words, as this blog has long been saying and my Conservatives for Liberty colleague Paul Nizinskyj has now eloquently written, David Cameron’s role model is far more the steady pair of hands in tough times rather than the visionary, bloody minded reformer – more Ted Heath than Margaret Thatcher.

I won’t lie: my first reaction on hearing the news that Iain Duncan Smith – who together with Michael Gove is one of the few Conservative heavyweights left with any discernible core conviction – had finally snapped and told George Osborne exactly what to do to himself was “great – anything to make the smug little cretin sweat”.

Because George Osborne is David Cameron with less charisma. And since David Cameron has almost no charisma of his own, that puts George Osborne well into negative territory. Given the fact that his blunders (the Omnishambles Budget, tax credits, PIPs) have done as much to colour the political landscape as his “victories”, I also find his reputation as a master political strategist to be hugely overinflated.

If running to the political centre by jettisoning core conservative principle by adopting left-of-Labour policies like a £9 minimum wage counts as political genius then sure – anybody who can successfully cross-dress as a politician from a different party to pick off some extra votes is a master strategist. But it makes George Osborne a lousy conservative.

Not everything in Osborne’s budget was wrong. Should the thresholds for tax brackets move upwards with inflation? Ideally yes, they should do so every year to neutralise the effect of fiscal drag. But to package measures such as this with reductions in the Personal Independence Payments to hundreds of thousands of disabled people is frankly idiotic.

In some ways, this is emblematic of the ridiculous nature of the Budget spectacle, a choreographed event which encourages the Chancellor of the Exchequer to play god with other minister’s departments, either stealing their flagship ideas (as with academies) or otherwise presenting them out of context. But it also speaks to this government’s utter failure to enact a bold, coherent and unapologetically conservative agenda.

Janet Daley sums it up perfectly:

Mr Osborne’s reputation as a tactical political genius has gone south too. Maybe that’s been the problem all along: his understanding of politics was all about tactics – about messaging and grids, presentational gloss and re-branding – and had nothing to do with fundamental, irreconcilable principle. I am prepared to guess that he quite literally does not understand politicians who are prepared to risk everything for an idea, a conviction: a personal moral mission.

He thinks that they are bloody-minded and naive, with no comprehension of the modern science of winning elections. But that, it seems, is not what the people believe: they are beginning to think that their leaders should stand for something, should have a fundamental sense of what they are in politics for. It’s what they call “authenticity”, and it could turn out to be more of a winner than all the clever marketing techniques in the world. Imagine that.

I understood what Michael Gove was trying to accomplish at Education. And I get what Iain Duncan Smith was wrestling with at the Department for Work and Pensions, and admire his semi-successful efforts to get people into work, and to make that work pay more than dependency on the state. Unlike many others who write sanctimoniously but ignorantly about the issue, I have witnessed the welfare state up close, and seen exactly what our “compassionate” system is capable of doing to people when the dead-eyed state machine is responsible for their lives.

I get all of that. But I have no idea what David Cameron is trying to accomplish as prime minister, or what George Osborne thinks he is doing at the Treasury. Because it certainly isn’t paying down Britain’s debts, as they both like to claim. Nor is it guarding Britain’s sovereignty and place in the world – Cameron has gutted Defence, and is in the process of tricking the British people into voting to remain in what he falsely claims to be a “reformed” European Union.

Neither Cameron or Osborne are motivated by the desire to roll back the state and make the British people more free – their heavy-handed government is all for ever-greater restrictions on both ancient and recent hard-won civil liberties, and is seemingly anxious to sacrifice what freedom we have left upon the altar of “national security”.

There is almost nothing about shrinking the state and expanding personal liberty in this government. But there are lots of policies – cutting state spending on the poorest and weakest in society while continuing to lavish stage largesse on wealthy older people (through non-means tested benefits and the lack of a housing supply policy to benefit the young) – which play right into Labour’s hands, making the Tories (and those who support them) look like nothing more than selfish, grubby opportunists, lining the pockets of the already wealthy while others suffer.

In short, I don’t know what this Conservative government is for, besides trying to stay in power and preventing Labour from stealing it. And apart from the work he was doing in his own department, I suspect that Iain Duncan Smith didn’t know either, no matter how much obligatory praise he heaped on Cameron in his resignation letter.

So I cannot do anything but endorse Iain Duncan Smith’s decision to quit. The final straw was no doubt Downing Street’s insistence that Duncan Smith come out all guns blazing in defence of the welfare cuts in the Budget, while simultaneously planning to walk back the proposals themselves – making IDS look like the crazed ideologue and Cameron / Osborne as the calm voices of reason. Who would want to stick around to be treated in that way?

And if Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation destabilises the government – so what? We currently have a nominally conservative prime minister who is busily enacting Tony Blair’s fourth term of office. We effectively already have a Labour prime minister – or a New Labour one, at least.

Maybe an improbable defeat to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party – or a good scare, at least – is the shock the Tories need to dig deep and find a real conservative leader.


Postscript: Iain Duncan Smith’s full resignation letter – which this blog believes was far too generous and courteous – is shown below.

I am incredibly proud of the welfare reforms that the government has delivered over the last five years. Those reforms have helped to generate record rates of employment and in particular a substantial reduction in workless households.

As you know, the advancement of social justice was my driving reason for becoming part of your ministerial team and I continue to be grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to serve. You have appointed good colleagues to my department who I have enjoyed working with. It has been a particular privilege to work with excellent civil servants and the outstanding Lord Freud and other ministers including my present team, throughout all of my time at the Department of Work and Pensions.

I truly believe that we have made changes that will greatly improve the life chances of the most disadvantaged people in this country and increase their opportunities to thrive. A nation’s commitment to the least advantaged should include the provision of a generous safety-net but it should also include incentive structures and practical assistance programmes to help them live independently of the state. Together, we’ve made enormous strides towards building a system of social security that gets the balance right between state help and self help.

Throughout these years, because of the perilous public finances we inherited from the last Labour administration, difficult cuts have been necessary. I have found some of these cuts easier to justify than others but aware of the economic situation and determined to be a team player I have accepted their necessity.

You are aware that I believe the cuts would have been even fairer to younger families and people of working age if we had been willing to reduce some of the benefits given to better-off pensioners but I have attempted to work within the constraints that you and the chancellor set.

I have for some time and rather reluctantly come to believe that the latest changes to benefits to the disabled and the context in which they’ve been made are a compromise too far. While they are defensible in narrow terms, given the continuing deficit, they are not defensible in the way they were placed within a Budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers. They should have instead been part of a wider process to engage others in finding the best way to better focus resources on those most in need.

I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.

Too often my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run up to a budget or fiscal event to deliver yet more reductions to the working age benefit bill. There has been too much emphasis on money saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government’s vision of a new welfare-to-work system could not be repeatedly salami-sliced.

It is therefore with enormous regret that I have decided to resign. You should be very proud of what this government has done on deficit reduction, corporate competitiveness, education reforms and devolution of power. I hope as the government goes forward you can look again, however, at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure “we are all in this together”.


Iain Duncan Smith

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The Hysterical Left Don’t Know The Meaning Of Human Rights

Human Rights - Disabled Protest 2

In their rage against the Evil Tories, activists are in danger of expanding the definition of “human rights” so far that the term loses all meaning

Last month, a ruling was handed down by a High Court judge. It barely received a ripple of attention in the media at the time, but it has potentially profound implications for our country and the ability of our elected governments to make policy.

In a stunning act of judicial activism masquerading as enlightened compassion, Justice Collins held that by implementing the welfare cap pledged in their manifesto, the Conservative government is actively discriminating against disabled people who might rely on the help of carers – other people – hit by the benefit cap.

The Guardian reports:

The welfare secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, unlawfully discriminated against disabled people by failing to exempt their carers from the benefit cap, a high court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Collins said the government’s decision to apply the cap to full-time carers for adult relatives had created serious financial hardship for them, forced many to give up caring for loved ones, and loaded extra costs on to the NHS and care services.

The benefit cap, which limits working-age unemployed people to £500 a week in benefits, was introduced by the government on the basis that it sent a strong message to so-called workless families that they had to try harder to get a job.

The court ruled that the two carers who brought the case – and who were caring for upwards of 35 hours a week – were effectively in work even though they were in receipt of benefits, and therefore should be exempt from the cap.

Clearly the government should not have used the word “workless” and referred instead to “families without employment”. Of course caring for someone with illness or disability is work, though not employment. But a failure of semantics is hardly sufficient reason to overturn a flagship government policy, as Justice Collins seems to advocate:

Collins ruled that by applying the cap to unpaid family carers the secretary of state had unlawfully discriminated against seriously disabled people, because it meant they would no longer receive care from a trusted family member or relation.

He said: “For many it matters deeply that they are cared for by a family member. Thus there is adverse treatment since, although care can be provided by others, the loss of a trusted carer can be devastating”.

This ruling is but one small part of a wider programme of judicial activism which has seen the government found by our own Supreme Court to be in breach of international human rights obligations, has seen Britain investigated by the United Nations on the ludicrous suspicion of institutional domestic human rights abuses, and which establishes a truly terrible precedent in law. With this ruling, the government can theoretically be held liable for violating the human rights of Person A simply by enacting a policy that adversely impacts Person B.

Thus our so-called human rights now extend to the people around us, and a harm inflicted on any one of them is a harm inflicted on us. Not only is every citizen already surrounded by an ever-expanding protective bubble of their own “human rights” (including such imaginary leaps as the right of foreign criminals to a “family life” while serving a prison sentence), now that bubble theoretically extends to anybody associated with them in a caring capacity.

Let’s be clear – making somebody worse off financially is not a breach of their human rights, let alone the human rights of somebody else for whom they act as carer. It may be bad policy. It may be mean spirited. It may be short sighted or have any number of other flaws as a piece of social policy. But to call it a breach of a person’s human rights is an extraordinary over-stepping of the mark. Discrimination means treating somebody differently because of an inherent characteristic, but activists are now crying “discrimination!” when the government fails to treat people sufficiently differently.

These attempts by the Left to weaponise the issue of human rights must be fiercely resisted. If human rights are to mean anything, they must be primal, sacrosanct and indivisible. It is hard to express those universal rights any better than the signatories of the US Declaration of Independence, who referred to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Life and liberty in particular are crystal clear, and the state should have no power to infringe upon these rights except in the gravest of circumstances (usually as punishment after being found guilty of committing a crime).

Human Rights - Life Liberty Pursuit of Happiness - 2

But the American founding fathers were also quite clear that there is no human right to be happy, or to live a carefree, comfortable life. There is only the right to pursue happiness. This properly reflects the fact that one person’s idea of happiness may be quite different to another’s, and that proper government becomes impossible when the state is continually forced to adjudicate between competing claims of infringement on happiness.

Indeed, the difficulty comes when activists and pandering politicians try to drill down from these lofty principles in a control-freakish attempt to ensure equality of outcome for all. We are all different, and require different social and environmental factors in order to be happy and free.

For some people, their inability to express certain outdated or bigoted views for fear of police harassment or prosecution is a gross infringement on their liberty to hold and express personal thoughts and beliefs. But for other sensitive souls, the mere possibility that they might encounter such unpalatable opinions in the real world – and the belief that unpleasant words heard are somehow comparable to physical harm inflicted – infringes on their own happiness and liberty.

This puts the government in the impossible situation of having to pick winners. Does one person’s human right to live life offence-free trump another’s right to freely express their own thoughts? Does the right of some people to enjoy new public infrastructure trump another’s right to peaceably enjoy their own property without having it seized, built over or spoiled? Does the right of a foreign criminal to maintain links with their UK-based family trump society’s right to deport foreign nationals convicted of a crime on the grounds of cost and public safety?

We live in an imperfect world and so long as we maintain our current expansionist view of human rights, such tough calls will always exist, regardless of who holds power. The best that any government can do – to avoid becoming bogged down in endless competing claims for favouritism – is to remain as neutral as possible and stick to enforcing only the most core human rights.

And let us remember that it is quite possible to establish various additional rights and principles to protect the vulnerable – enshrined either in law or through codes of practice – without elevating every single claim to the level of an “human right”.

For example, as a society, we may well want to establish a duty on large businesses or government departments to spare no expense in accommodating the accessibility requirements of the severely disabled. But if an organisation happens to fall short of the required standards, is it really right that they are sued according to the same laws that govern torture, detention without charge or war crimes?

Consider the London Underground, the world’s oldest underground metro system. Because of its age, the vast majority of the Tube network does not conform to modern accessibility standards, and could not quickly be brought up to standard without exorbitant, prohibitive cost. Of course this is hugely unfair to those with mobility impairments, as they are unable to avail themselves of the full range of London transport options. But to call it an infringement of their human rights is wildly excessive, and something of an insult to the millions of people living in more benighted parts of the world whose fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are routinely trampled.

In the information age, and with the growth of social media, it is easier than ever to identify businesses, organisations and government agencies which fall short of their responsibility to provide accessible services for all, and to apply pressure on them to raise their performance. One trending Twitter hashtag, coined in outrage at the insensitivity of an organisation, now has the potential to achieve more far-reaching change than any judgement handed down in Strasbourg.

Human Rights - Disability 2

But we absolutely can not continue to abide the corrosive idea that government policies should be struck down if they impact differently on different citizens. Because nearly every government policy will, by definition, impact different groups in different ways.

Spending more money on roads penalises those who walk or use public transport. Spending more money on pensions penalises those people of working age who will inevitably receive a less generous settlement when they retire. Spending more money on education penalises those currently in retirement. Enacting tougher prison sentences for criminals penalises people from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds who are more likely to end up in court. Government funding of research into cures for disease A penalises sufferers of disease B.

Where does it end? By clinging to the notion that individual government policies must never be disadvantageous to anybody, ever, we render ourselves ungovernable. We descend from being a cohesive society into a splintered and warring coalition of special interest groups, each jealously guarding their own perks and privileges at the expense of all others.

Government spending disproportionately benefits those who are not economically self sufficient. That much is obvious and unavoidable – rich people either do not or cannot claim the benefits on which poor people rely. And the fact that wealthier citizens support their less fortunate compatriots with their taxes is part of the social compact we make in order to maintain our inclusive society.

But to suggest that cutting government spending infringes on the “human rights” of the recipients is utterly abhorrent, even immoral, because it effectively enshrines a formal, limitless claim on the labour and earnings of the economically productive by the non-productive. It says that by refusing to fund government services with ever increasing taxes until the wishes of every welfare recipient are fully satisfied is to violate their human rights, to effectively inhabit the same low category as torturers and dictators.

Human Rights - North Korea - Kim Jong Un

It’s hard to know who comes out of this whole sorry affair looking worse – the disability rights activists, who have somehow managed to turn what should be a principled and laudable campaign into a grubby and petulant sulk, or the United Nations, which once again debases and undermines itself by treating the United Kingdom – of all countries – like some kind of rogue state.

It is perfectly possible to disagree with this Conservative government calmly and rationally. It is perfectly possible to advance the case that government spending restraint, the “bedroom tax” and welfare reforms are bad policy. But to claim that they infringe anyone’s human rights is a grotesque exaggeration that should be laughed out of town, not treated seriously and earnestly investigated by the UN.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: these inalienable, indivisible rights have served us well for centuries – and not only in the United States of America. Generations of campaigners before us were able to argue for (and win) the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage and civil rights protection with reference to these noble aims. And they would be appalled at the modern-day assertion that we should obsess over whether each and every government spending decision has been carefully calibrated to benefit us personally, rightly viewing this as a condescending attack on our liberty and autonomy as free citizens.

If human rights are to mean anything at all, we must stop trying to invoke them every time the government does something with which we disagree, or whenever we have a less than wholly successful interaction with a business or government agency. Human rights violations are real. Even today, while puffed up social justice warriors in the UK write furious screeds accusing Iain Duncan Smith of human rights abuses, people in other countries are being imprisoned, tortured, spied upon, maimed and executed. Babies with entirely survivable conditions and disabilities are being killed, or aborted before they are even born.

If we really cannot find a way to discuss the human consequences of shrinking the state without resorting to shrieking about supposed human rights abuses then truly, we are suffering from a grievous failure of empathy and imagination as a country.

And that’s the real crime.

UN Declaration of Human Rights - United Nations

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The Tories Are Fighting A War Against State Dependency, Not The Disabled

ATOS Kills - Birmingham Against The Cuts - DWP - Welfare Reform

Opposition to the Conservative government’s welfare reforms are high on hyperbole and outrage, but tellingly low on alternative proposals

To listen to many voices on the Left is to be told that we live in a uniquely heartless and uncaring age, where living standards are being deliberately driven to unprecedented lows by the deliberate actions of a government which is not just wrong, but actually evil.

Here’s Laurie Penny in the New Statesman, pouring scorn on the very thought of verifying that claims for sickness and disability benefit are genuine:

I should say “fitness tests”, because nobody gets to be sick any longer under Iain Duncan Smith (so good at rebranding ideological cuts that they named him twice, once for each face). Navigating this system is humiliating enough for disabled people without them being lied to every step of the way. If the DWP would just come out and say that it doesn’t believe the state should help people who are ill, disabled or injured, it would somehow be more bearable. At least people would know where it stood. But the stated aim of the welfare changes is to “get people working”, because: “Work is the best route out of poverty.”

And here’s the Green Party’s Jonathan Bartley, churning out the latest conventional left-wing thinking over at Left Foot Forward:

For IDS it is now clear that disability is not something to be embraced, let alone celebrated as part of the diversity which makes us all stronger. Disability is an aberration. It is a problem which needs to be fixed.

And if those who are different get the right therapy, or where necessary they are sanctioned, they can be pushed into the workplace to become like ‘normal’ people.

Left-wing opposition to Tory welfare reforms has now become so reflexive and so unthinking that encouraging people to work and be economically self sufficient – with all the freedom that it brings – is now actively seen as a bad thing.

Britain is now such a “diverse” country that it apparently contains a large bloc of people for whom any kind of work is permanently impossible to contemplate, and for whom any attempt to help or encourage them away from dependence on benefits (thus protecting them from vulnerability to future policy and benefit changes) is seen as an unconscionable assault on their “human rights”.

This is dangerous, hyperbolic nonsense.

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The Left Are Weaponising Human Rights In Their Hatred Of The Tories

UN Declaration of Human Rights - United Nations

The United Nations – that bright and unstained beacon of morality in our dark world – is to investigate claims that Britain’s welfare reforms are an infringement on the ‘human rights’ of benefit claimants

By now, we are used to the continual cheapening and debasement of the term ‘human rights’, transformed from the noble assertion that every individual is entitled to live in freedom and security to its new meaning as code word for the petulant, open-ended demand for benefits and services funded by other people.

This much is not new – almost every swivel-eyed anti-austerity protester seems to have a tale about how the Evil Tories are callously and deliberately violating their ‘human right’ to something or other. And as small government conservatives or libertarians we must continue to contest these fatuous claims as best we can. But now, those people who believe that their life circumstances endow them with a government-enforced claim on the wallets of their neighbours without so much as a thank-you have won themselves a new ally: the United Nations.

From the Herald Scotland:

United Nations officials will visit the UK in the next few months to investigate whether Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms have led to “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

A formal investigation has already been launched by the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. UN investigations are conducted confidentially, but a leading Scottish disability charity has told the Sunday Herald it has been advised a visit by the Special Rapporteur and members of the committee on the rights of persons with disabilities is expected in the “near future”.

The only surprise is that this has not happened sooner, some time in the last parliament. After all, when your existence in a left-wing echo chamber destroys your ability to construct an intellectual argument or engage with those who think differently, the only remaining option is to appeal to outside bodies to bully, shame and intimidate your opponents into reversing course.

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