Bernard Ingham: Superficial shortcomings see Cameron and Osborne lose direction

David Cameron and George Osborne's reputations are on the line.David Cameron and George Osborne's reputations are on the line.
David Cameron and George Osborne's reputations are on the line.
IAIN Duncan Smith has clearly had enough of political office. Having resigned as the third leader of his party after Margaret Thatcher, the social reformer has now thrown in his chips as Secretary for Work and Pensions.

It is far from clear what was the precise cause of the Eurosceptic IDS, as he is known, going this time – cuts to the disabled benefit bill or membership of a Government which is formally committed by its Prime Minister and Chancellor to stay in the European Union.

It may well be that one trial – having to find welfare savings before every budget for six years – was just about supportable. But two – the second being in a government committed to Europe in its supranational form – were simply a test too far.

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I suspect IDS thinks he has gone about as far as he can go in lifting people out of dependence while Gordon Brown’s massive £156bn budget deficit is only half eliminated and that he wants to bring his sense of purpose to the “Out” campaign.

In spite of all the shouting, it is also unclear what damage his resignation – David Cameron’s first from a Cabinet member – has done to a fractured government.

The failure of any Minister to follow him into the Euro (and benefits) battlefield suggests not a lot, at least for the time being.

But that does not mean that Chancellor George Osborne has suffered no serious injury.

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As the putative next leader of the party, he seems to be altogether too determined to ensure he does not get it.

It is one thing to produce a ridiculed budget, as he did in 2012, but it is entirely another matter to blow it again when obliged by law to eliminate the Brown millstone – and balance the nation’s books – by 2020.

More seriously, it is not just Osborne who worries me. It is also the uncertain performance of Cameron and Osborne in tandem in this their second Government.

Their hold on the purpose, direction and thrust of their administration is uncertain. They seem to be having to row back on policies that have been only half thought through.

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If superficiality is not the explanation, then perhaps the sheer burden of eliminating Brown’s handicap and trying to avoid departure from Europe – and conceivably Scotland from the UK – is getting at them.

It is not a pretty sight, especially when Jeremy Corbyn, with his peculiar brand of economic and political poisons, theoretically lies in wait to replace them.

After all these big names, I want to introduce you to someone you will not have heard of unless you live there – Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan, MP for Berwick on Tweed.

She has recently told the House: “The people we elect should be responsible for setting the taxes of this country – not unelected EU judges and bureaucrats. It is a fundamental principle of democracy that there should be no taxation without representation.”

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It takes some guts for an MP of less than a year to say that because the “Remain” campaign has no answer to it. This is because they are not concerned with principles – democratic control – only perceived short-term advantage.

They are prepared to risk the potentially dangerous longer-term consequences of Europe’s gash democracy.

I do not in any sense wish to belittle the idealism with which the European pioneers set up the Iron and Coal Steel Community (ECSC) to pool resources, create a single market and bring peace to Europe.

Nor do I doubt the sincerity of ex-soldiers Edward Heath, Willie Whitelaw and Francis Pym in seeking a lasting European peace through co-operation, although Heath deceived us over our sovereignty in the EU.

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But the plain fact is that the ECSC set a pattern of supranational institutions that has manifestly failed. The EU is neither in its general operations representative of 28 member states and 500 million souls nor in its running a single currency for 19 nations directly accountable to the people who are in its straightjacket.

To put it bluntly, it is a democratic monstrosity and President Barack Obama is either woefully briefed or naïve in urging Britain to stay within it. It needs to start again from scratch and ensure democratic control.

IDS might never have had an EU reason to resign – or Mrs Trevelyan to tell us a home truth – if Europe had heeded Margaret Thatcher in Bruges in 1988. Build more slowly a wider, looser democratic Europe, she said.

They were deaf then and they are still deaf now.