Iain Duncan Smith’s shock resignation and the government’s civil war over the EU should be a wake-up call for Labour’s coup-plotters, writes Charley Allan
THE latest right-wing rumour is that Jeremy Corbyn’s enemies in Labour will launch their coup attempt shortly after June’s EU referendum, once the day-to-day business of fighting two election campaigns is out of the way.
They have to act fast as there’s less than a month before Parliament shuts up shop, so they’ve pencilled in the first week of July for a spot of regime change.
But it’s actually more likely to be the Tories who’ll have a summer holiday from hell, engulfed in a bitter and brutal leadership contest, because the chances of a Brexit have surely increased since Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget on Wednesday spectacularly backfired.
As Corbyn pointed out immediately, this was a Budget with unfairness at its heart. The Labour leader and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell were particularly enraged by cuts to disabled people’s personal independence payments (PIP), money meant to make things like getting dressed and going to the bathroom easier.
And apparently this was a cut too far for even Iain Duncan Smith, who resigned as Work and Pensions Secretary on Friday. In an extraordinary exchange of letters with the Prime Minister, he warned that protecting rich pensioners at the expense of the working-age poor meant the cuts would be “perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.”
David Cameron replied on Friday night that he was “puzzled and disappointed” by Duncan Smith’s resignation, claiming that the government had agreed earlier in the day to make a PIP U-turn. The PM has a point, given that Duncan Smith’s own department had trailed the cuts a week earlier, but Osborne was looking for someone to blame for the whole fiasco — perhaps triggering a pre-emptive IDS strike.
Whatever the ins and outs of the matter, the referendum looms large over everything the Tories do. Duncan Smith is a committed EU Leaver who knew his days were numbered in a pro-EU Cabinet.
And while delivering his Budget speech, Osborne warned that an Out vote would spark “disruptive uncertainty.” All his fiscal forecasts were predicated on us remaining, he explained.
But his predictions are meaning
less whichever way we vote. Having broken two of his three new self-imposed rules — reducing debt and capping welfare — he’s still handing out cash to core Tory supporters such as highly paid workers, rich savers and corporations big and small.
He tried and failed to claw some of this cash back by robbing dignity from the disabled, but it’s still a giveaway Budget — and a classic pitch to his party’s right wing, which he needs on-side in the looming leadership battle.
To avoid breaking his third rule of running a budget surplus, Osborne proposes to slash suddenly what’s left of public spending in 2019 — mega-austerity on the eve of a general election. Even his supporters know this is impossible, politically and economically.
So this was not a serious Budget, but it was a serious attempt to shore up his far-right-wing credentials and bribe “middle England” to vote to stay. Unfortunately for him, neither plan is going to work.
The people who will decide this referendum are those with the most to lose from this Budget — the working-class masses — and Osborne has just handed them another reason to hate him and Cameron.
What better way to give them both a kicking than by voting to leave? With all his remaining credibility on the line, the PM must resign if we vote to leave, and Osborne will be badly wounded.
Enter stage right, hero of the hour Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. Cue short, bloody contest culminating in a coronation for Johnson at party conference in October.
He will inherit the leadership of a divided party — and country — but because of the coalition’s Fixed-Term Parliament Act he probably won’t be able to call a snap election to try to cement his position unless Labour or the SNP agree.
In fact, Johnson won’t be able to do much of anything, as half his MPs will vote down his legislation out of sheer spite. He’ll be a lame duck even before he waddles into Number 10.
And at the general election, whether in 2020 or before, he won’t have a chance. Divided parties lose elections, and for the foreseeable future the Tories are facing far more damaging splits than Labour.
Ironically, the one person who could save the In campaign, a la Gordon Brown in Scotland, is Corbyn, who has spent the last six months having his authority undermined by the very same people who most want Britain to remain in Europe — the Labour right and the Tory left.
Traditional Tory rightwingers begrudgingly respect Corbyn, partly because they understand the threat he poses to their party. Along with tax credits, this latest clear win by Team Jez shows how foolish it is to underestimate him.
While the vast numbers of “don’t knows” decide whether they want in or out of the EU, Labour must be careful not to alienate natural allies. It lost Scotland, perhaps for good, two years ago by campaigning too close to Cameron, and will need to win over regions like East Anglia instead to form the next government.
That means acknowledging the problems that immigration can cause and coming up with sound solutions, such as massive infrastructure investment — the “new deal” that Corbyn and McDonnell are proposing.
And their message of fairness and equality is already cutting through.
Two new polls put Labour in the lead for the first time since the general election, with ICM and YouGov pegging the party at 28 and 25 per cent respectively when you include people who didn’t give any preference at all.
Both polls had the Tories trailing on 24 per cent, with the “undecideds” — those who don’t know, won’t say, or say they won’t vote — on 26 per cent in the ICM survey and a first-place 27 per cent in YouGov’s.
Comically, ICM completely disowned the first poll on Monday, insisting it was “rogue” and “methodologically perturbing” — like a waiter serving a meal while claiming the chef can’t cook — but then looked even sillier when YouGov confirmed Labour’s lead on Thursday.
So with their unelectability argument collapsing, the anti-Corbyn coupsters better realise events are spiralling out of control for both them and the government, and Labour has a classic opportunity to capitalise on Tory divisions — which would be a crime to waste, whatever the referendum result.