Conservative Intelligence

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Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith

Position: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 2010-

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

  • Member of Parliament for Chingford and Woodford Green.
  • Former Tory leader who founded the Centre for Social Justice think tank in 2004. Although IDS has formally disconnected from the CSJ (he is now titled the CSJ’s Founder Patron) it will still be a vitally influential think tank – feeding him thinking on the issues with which he and the rest of the Government are grappling,
  • Now, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and almost as importantly, Chair of the Cabinet Committee on Social Justice.
  • The most important observation about Iain Duncan Smith is that he has only returned to frontline politics for one reason: To complete the mission he began as Tory leader and which he has been pursuing through the Centre for Social Justice. This makes him (i) focused and (ii) uncompromising. Most ministers see jobs as a stepping stone to something else, probably something bigger. IDS does not. He’s only taken the job to deliver big reforms. This makes him hard-to-handle. Although he’s not unreasonable he will walk from the job if George Osborne, in particular, blocks reforms. Cameron also needs him inside his tent as one of the most important leaders of the Right. With William Hague and Michael Gove he leads popularity surveys among the Tory grassroots.
  • IDS believes that the Right has neglected poverty for too long and, worst, the Left’s recipe has not succeeded.
  • He believes that there are five paths out of poverty: (1) Work; (2) Strong families; (3) A good education; (4) Freedom from debt; and (5) Freedom from addiction to alcohol and drugs.
  • A traditional, more libertarian Conservative would readily sign up to this list of five pathways but that is where they would stop.  Individuals are responsible, they would say, for lifting themselves out of poverty. IDS believes that government has a role in actively helping individuals to get work, to form strong families and so on.
  • Not all of the five pathways are within the control of his Whitehall Department but as Chairman of the Cabinet Committee he has scope to shape policy in all areas.
  • The two big aims he has at W&P are to eliminate the so-called ‘couple penalty’ that penalises couples who choose to live together and, more expensively, the ‘work penalty’ that discourages those on welfare from taking paid work. This task is made more difficult by the weak economic environment – particularly rising unemployment – and the Chancellor’s decision to protect certain welfare payments that benefit wealthier households. If these had not been protected IDS would have had, say, £5-10bn with which he could have financed welfare-to-work plans.
  • He will also have to tackle the pensions issue with LibDem minister Steve Webb. Expect the retirement age to ‘go Danish’ and become linked to average life expectancy.
  • He has three particularly important staff members:
    • Philippa Stroud is his lead Special Adviser and as, until recently, Executive Director of the CSJ, she is in command of the issues.
    • Charlie Pickles, also ex-CSJ is also influential on policy. His press officer, Suzie Squire, has IDS’ complete confidence.

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