Iain Duncan Smith gave a passionate, heartfelt address to delegates in Manchester yesterday. To cheers from the Tory faithful, he affirmed his moral mission to tackle welfare dependency and attacked “nasty” left wing campaigners against welfare reform.
Mr Duncan Smith is one of the most principled and good-hearted men in politics today. He genuinely seems to care about those who find themselves out of work and trapped in benefits dependency hell. His welfare reforms are the single best thing to come out of the last parliament.
Yet welfare reform is the single topic most likely to enrage your left wing friends at a party. Mr Duncan Smith has become a hate figure for the anti-austerity mob. He is regularly burned in effigy by screaming would-be revolutionaries, criticised by socialist ‘anti-poverty’ campaigners, mindlessly blamed by twitter warriors and the Guardian as a ‘murderer’ of the poor and disabled, and condemned by low level UN functionaries.
Mr Duncan Smith condemned the “bile and horridness” of the anti-Tory hate mob outside the conference hall. In particular he criticised the “nastiness and foul abuse” heaped on former Employment Minister Esther McVey.
He singled out shadow chancellor John McDonnell in particular, calling for him to apologise. Mr McDonnell recently accused the government of “brutal treatment” of disabled people, and has ‘joked’ about lynching Ms McVey.
Duncan Smith pointed to the enormous achievements of the Conservatives in “Labour’s something for nothing culture”. Two million more people are in work, including many more women and lone parents. Youth and disabled employment are both rising. These are massive achievements and Mr Duncan Smith has a lot to do with them. He is quite rightly proud of his record. However he warned delegates that “the job is not done yet”.
The 2015 general election gave the Conservatives “a full mandate from the people to govern according to a Conservative manifesto”, Mr Duncan Smith claimed. And welfare reform is right at the heart of that manifesto.
Labour treated the sick and disabled as “victims”, unable to work and fit only for miserable subsistence on benefits. Mr Duncan Smith rejected that approach entirely. “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you”, he declared to delegates. “With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty”.
Instead of focusing on the symptoms of poverty, Mr Duncan Smith declared the government would continue to tackle the “causes of poverty”: educational attainment, worklessness, drug and alcohol addiction, problem debt and family stability.
He also defended his decision to abolish Labour’s measure of child poverty, highlighting the absurdity of relative poverty measures – which show poverty increasing during periods of economic growth and falling during recessions.
The first defence against poverty, according to Mr Duncan Smith, is the family. “To look out for your family is the most basic and the best of human impulses”. Labour “pushed the family out of public policy”. Mr Duncan Smith’s approach is all about “making families stronger”.
He made “no apologies” for his enthusiasm during this year’s budget on hearing the announcement of the Chancellor’s ‘living wage’. Work, according to Mr Duncan Smith, must always pay better than welfare. Many free-market inclined Tories are sceptical of the benefits of a higher minimum wage, but it is undeniable that his heart is in the right place.
The principle behind Mr Duncan Smith’s welfare revolution has been to “restore lives”. People must become more self reliant, regain their self worth and “reawaken responsibility”. His is a deeply moral conservatism, rooted in concern for those imprisoned by the rise of the welfare state and the erosion of the family.
The limit on child tax credit to two children and the benefits cap are therefore both “responsible and fair”. You do not have a right to receive from benefits what your neighbour earns by working. You do not have the right to a brood of state-subsidised children. Supporting your own family through hard work and self sacrifice is deeply moral.
Genuine compassion, according to Mr Duncan Smith, is not the “tears and entreaties, or slogans and protest, so beloved of the hard left now running Labour”. It is the “simple, yet difficult act of helping to restore their lives to be the best that they can be through determination and not dependency”.
He credits his father with instilling in him an appreciation for the virtues of the British people: the most “tolerant, fair minded and strong willed” people in the world.
Outside the conference hall the angry demonstrators – who seem to hate IDS more than any other Tory – raged and screamed and banged their bongo drums loudly in the pouring rain.
Meanwhile the conference delegates – the people whose opinions actually mattered – loved him. The whole hall stood up to give him a standing ovation. “I’m glad I’m back”, said Mr Duncan Smith. You’d be hard pressed to find any Conservative in Manchester who would disagree.
Chris has been a member of the Conservative Party since 2010. He believes strongly in individual freedom, personal responsibility, and the power of free markets to eliminate poverty by encouraging wealth creation. Follow him on Twitter: @
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