David Cameron will today defend his record as a “compassionate Conservative” and try to ease tensions in his party over the dramatic weekend resignation of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
Duncan Smith quit the Cabinet on Friday night in protest at the decision to cut Personal Independence Payments ahead of last week's Budget.
Speaking yesterday, he warned that government policy was “in danger of drifting in a direction that divides society rather than unites it”.
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The prime minister will reject that claim this afternoon when he is expected to tell the House of Commons he is “a modern, compassionate Conservative”.
Stephen Crabb has replaced Duncan Smith as work and pensions secretary and he will make his own Commons statement later to confirm that the government is not going ahead with the planned cuts to Personal Independence Payments.
Duncan Smith's announcement, in a two-page letter to the prime minister, came as the Treasury confirmed it was changing course on its plan to cut £4.4 billion from the PIP budget, although allies of the former work and pensions secretary have said the Treasury expected cuts to be made elsewhere following the u-turn.
In his resignation letter, Duncan Smith said he had "for some time and rather reluctantly come to believe that the latest changes to benefits to the disabled and the context in which they’ve been made are a compromise too far".
“While they are defensible in narrow terms, given the continuing deficit, they are not defensible in the way they were placed within a Budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers," he added.
Cameron meanwhile said he was “puzzled and disappointed” at Duncan Smith’s decision, because the proposals had been “collectively agreed” by the DWP, Number 10 and the Treasury.
Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC), said the resignation of Duncan Smith should prompt a wider rethink about the way the centre of government dealt with big spending departments.
“The lesson is the paradox of ministers’ experience: the more the Treasury centralises ‘to get things done’, the less actually gets done, because the officials and structures capable of carrying out real and rational action in departments are frustrated or discouraged from making decisions,” he wrote in The Guardian.
“The one thing that is delegated is blame. Only after things start to go wrong are those ministers and officials given responsibility and made accountable. Thus the Treasury was blaming Iain for the failure of the Personal Independence Payment policy that it imposed in the first place. It is time for Downing Street to change its ways.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “We are sorry to see Iain Duncan Smith go, but we are a ‘one nation’ government determined to continue helping everyone in our society have more security and opportunity, including the most disadvantaged.
“That means we will deliver our manifesto commitments to make the welfare system fairer, cut taxes and ensure we have a stable economy by controlling welfare spending and living within our means.”