Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Fallout from Budget 2016: Omnishambles 2.0?

History has repeated itself for the beleaguered Chancellor this spring. 2012 marked a low point in the coalition government's fortunes, but a new looming threat is approaching, post-haste.

Photo by Lies Thru a Lens / CC BY

In a move that pundits were quick to call the "IDS of March" (scraping the barrel, I know), the Cabinet lost its Secretary for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, after 6yrs in the job.

Proposed cuts to disability benefits were eventually scrapped, but the muddle following last Wednesday's Budget prompted ex-Conservative leader IDS to reconsider his role, it's understood.

To avid EU referendum watchers, IDS is one of the most prominent Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party, and so his resignation is undoubtedly being viewed through this lens.

IDS did the rounds of several televised interviews over the weekend, following his decision. The Mail on Sunday reported that Mr Cameron allegedly "exploded with rage" at IDS's news, and it was also alleged he called him "dishonourable", but it remains unclear how this information was ascertained.

In an interview on the Andrew Marr Show, IDS took a swipe at the now-scrapped proposals, branding them "deeply unfair", as well as accusing the government of moving to please Tory-supporters of pensionable age or over, at the expense of the poorest in society.

IDS also insisted his decision was unrelated to the upcoming EU referendum, but his charged language implies some kind of crafty game-plan to potentially shape public opinion, in an atmosphere where the slightest spark could ignite sufficient support for either side of the campaign.

The resignation is perhaps the first outburst of dissent, in a governing party that is on the brink of a major skirmish. The Conservative Party was left scarred in the early 1990s, over the Maastricht Treaty, and suffered something akin to a "lost decade" in the wilderness, before recovering in the run up to the 2010 election.

Just as the Scottish referendum has not healed wounds over the desire for some in Scotland to move towards a more independent nation, the EU referendum is unlikely to heal the Conservative Party's schism. In fact, it might trigger a new leadership election, if reports are to be believed.

The Sunday Times spoke to an un-named minister, who claimed the Prime Minister "wants to fix the problem. He wants to get rid of the t***s who have caused all the problems. There will be a reckoning.”

Only 50 MPs are required to call for a leadership race, and there is a possibility a Brexit candidate might challenge Mr Cameron, and even dismount him, before his second and final term is over. In the run-up to the 2015 election, Mr Cameron had told James Landale from the BBC that "Two are wonderful, three might just be too many".

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