Iain Duncan Smith had big ideas for improving social justice in the UK. How much did he actually achieve?by Philip Collins / April 21, 2016 / Leave a comment
Fifteen minutes by car up the M8 motorway out of Glasgow you arrive at the site of the epiphany. On the Easterhouse estate in 2002, close to tears at the squalor he witnessed, the Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith changed his mind about politics. Posing in front of the dilapidated housing blocks, he was both incredulous and ashamed that people should live in such circumstances in a rich nation. Duncan Smith committed his party to compassion on the spot.
Though nobody can doubt the sincerity of the conversion—Duncan Smith has devoted too much time and effort to the cause—it is hard to avoid a churlish note of irritation. Duncan Smith was long in the tooth when he realised a truth the rest of us grew up with. Besides, the ambition was a little hard on the Conservative Party too, which can claim many dedicated and successful social reformers, William Wilberforce and the Earl of Shaftesbury chief among their number.
Still, better a late convert. When Duncan Smith returned to London, he established the Centre for Social Justice and turned himself into John Profumo without the scandal. Though there was always a suspicion that the think tank’s conclusions had a habit of reflecting what Duncan Smith already thought—marriage and happy families were the road to social justice—his new-found passion lasted all the way up to the point that his party returned to government and he was granted the opportunity to embody his principles, as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
Now that Duncan Smith’s resignation from government on 18th March has closed the story, or at least this episode of it, we can assess what became of the epiphany. Did the world move? There are, of course, reasonable doubts to be entertained about the sincerity of Duncan Smith’s resignation. He walked ostensibly over a series of cuts to disability benefits which he had himself sanctioned and which were, in any case, about to be withdrawn. The Prime Minister had tried and failed to move Duncan Smith at his last reshuffle and there was a certain amount of loose talk from people…