8 Nov 2011

IDS seizes the Europe issue again

The Welfare Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith has taken a big personal decision which could have far-reaching consequences for him personally, for the coalition, and perhaps for Britain’s relationship with the European Union.

After IDS lost the Conservative leadership in 2003, he reinvented himself very radically as a politician, and in a very unusual manner. From then on, he decided – rather like William Wilberforce with the question of slavery 200 years ago – he would concentrate on one big issue – in IDS’s case, welfare. This would take up all his energy, to the exclusion of almost everything else.

Duncan-Smith’s experiences as Tory leader visiting Glasgow council estates had truly shocked him as to the horrific extent of welfare dependency in many of our inner cities. He set up a think tank, the Centre for Social Justice, which developed many of the policies which IDS is now pursuing as welfare secretary in government.

Focusing on one big issue, of course, meant that IDS’s voice would no longer be heard on Europe, the issue on which IDS made his name as a backbencher, as one of the ring-leaders of the Maastricht rebels during the Major government. But by 2003 IDS had also himself taken the view as leader that stressing Europe was not doing his party any good with the electorate.

Now, IDS has suddenly returned to the European issue in a big way. He perceives that the public mood has changed. And it’s too important to leave to like-minded ministerial colleagues, IDS believes. What’s more, the issue of benefit tourism from the EU gives him a departmental excuse.

Hence his meeting with David Cameron on Monday evening to discuss the future of the UK and the EU, at which IDS and his friend and colleague, the Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, urged the PM that it was time to be much tougher.

The turning-point for IDS, I understand, was last month’s resignation as defence secretary of Liam Fox, the other big right-wing hitter in the Cabinet. Until then IDS could rely on Fox to defend the arch-eurosceptic line within the higher reaches of government. With Fox gone, there was now a risk that the arguments wouldn’t be made forcefully within Cabinet.

Almost as important as the Fox resignation in prompting IDS’s move, was David Cameron’s decision not to replace like with like. Many on the Conservative right were deeply disappointed that the prime minister didn’t appoint another right-wing eurosceptic to the Cabinet in place of Liam Fox, such as Chris Grayling or David Davis. Justine Greening shares her party’s broad euroscepticism, but far from militantly so.

With IDS back on the European warpath, the political dynamics of this issue could change radically. For eight years IDS was quietly pursuing his own hobbyhorse of welfare reform, causing trouble for neither of his successors. Now he’s back at the centre of events, pursuing the issue on which he originally made his name. The consequences could be explosive.

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7 reader comments

  1. NBeale says:

    He’s far too wise and good to allow a fight on the EU to stop the welfare reform agenda.

    As for EU benefit tourism, he should just ban it, and defy the ECJ

  2. Gonkione says:

    I Bl**dy well hope so! We must get out of the EEC. What Adolph failed to do will come to pass at the present rate. It’s a good job the likes of Cameron And Clegg were not in power in 1940 otherwise we would all be speaking German

  3. Robert Eve says:

    Anything or anyone who helps us get out of the EU is very welcome.

  4. Norman Dee says:

    Fantastic, always liked IDS, and thought he got a rough deal. He was beaten by a combination of poor support from his own party and despicable treatment from both the BBC and the Labour Government

  5. Geyza says:

    This has not been a sleeper cell awakened, so much as been a lazy and deceitful group of closet europhiles getting a kicking from the electorate as the Euro verges on collapse and the EU is now expressing itself ever more as an unelected oligarchy acting in an extreme, grossly and overtly anti-democratic way. Trampling national sovereignty and democracy underfoot across the EU.

    We went to war recently and lost many servicemen’s lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and we killed thousands in Libya to bring them the opportunity of democracy and self rule, as our own leaders are complicit in the removal of more and more of our own sovereign democracy here at home.

    Euroscepticism is now the normal mainstream political philosophy in the UK and the same feeling in dying sovereign nations across the EU is increasing fast.

    Many are calling for an EU spring to reclaim our national democracies from tyranny and oligarchy/plutocracy.

    Anyone claiming that this is the wrong approach is on the wrong side of history and the dark side of the politics of tyranny, oppression and dictatorship.

  6. e says:

    Welfare reforms: no cost to an employer, a workforce labouring 30 hours a week for approx £65 under the guise of being taught how to be a worker. This is but hobbyhorse! We really are looking at a utopian neoliberal future; the invisible hands bounty will overfill, mix with the animal spirits, and trickle down for sure, I can’t wait…..

  7. Rog says:

    IDS very recently voted AGAINST letting us have our say in an EU referendum. Unforgivable, just like the other supposed “arch-EUrosceptic” Hague.

    His actions are what count, so rather than attempting to read the tealeaves, let’s just leave the facts speak for themselves, eh?

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