Cameron Defends Osborne After Weekend of U.K. Tory SplitsRobert Hutton
Prime Minister offers conciliatory words to his party
New pensions secretary says no other welfare cuts to be sought
David Cameron moved to defend his finance minister, George Osborne, and heal rifts within his Conservative Party after a weekend that saw the resignation of a cabinet minister and senior figures openly arguing on the airwaves.
Tories closed ranks behind the prime minister in the House of Commons on Monday, helped by his decision to use conciliatory words about Iain Duncan Smith, who quit as Work and Pensions Secretary on Friday and spent the weekend attacking both Cameron and Osborne. Rather than publicly strike back, Cameron paid tribute to Duncan Smith’s work in government. He then turned to backing his chancellor.
“We can only improve life chances if our economy is secure and strong,” he said. “Without sound public finances you end up having to raise taxes or make even deeper cuts in spending. You don’t get more opportunity, you get less. And it’s working people who suffer.”
After a weekend of feuding that was apparently about welfare but underpinned by the split within the Conservative Party about whether to leave the European Union, Tory members of Parliament opted not to challenge the prime minister. Neither did the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who didn’t even mention Duncan Smith.
The ease with which Cameron faced the chamber was all the more surprising given the backdrop. Not only had he lost a member of his cabinet, the prime minister was confirming that 4.4 billion pounds ($6.3 billion) of spending cuts outlined in the previous week’s Budget are to be abandoned. The new pensions secretary, Stephen Crabb, appeared after Cameron and said the government will not seek to replace the cuts with welfare savings elsewhere.
“After discussing this issue over the weekend with the prime minister and the chancellor we have no further plans to make welfare savings beyond the very substantial savings legislated for by Parliament,” he said.
Duncan Smith said Sunday he was no longer able to support the cuts to disability benefits while taxes for higher earners and companies are being lowered. He denied his decision to quit late Friday as work and pensions secretary had anything to do with his support for leaving the EU in the June 23 referendum, a position in opposition to the prime minister and chancellor.
The criticism raises pressure on Osborne, who is already falling behind London Mayor Boris Johnson in the race to succeed Cameron when the prime minister steps down before the 2020 general election.
The divide within the Conservatives on Europe may return on Wednesday and Thursday, when Johnson, the most prominent campaigner for leaving the EU, and then Osborne, one of those most committed to staying in, are questioned by Parliament’s Treasury Committee about the economic and financial costs involved.
Bookmakers lengthened the odds on Osborne getting the top job, with William Hill Plc making Johnson the favorite at 15/8, meaning a successful 8-pound bet would make a profit of 15 pounds.
Two opinion polls last week suggested the opposition Labour Party had made up ground on the Conservatives even before the Budget splits, and was running neck-and-neck with the Tories.