Laws on Osborne v Duncan Smith

David Laws CoalitionI wrote here recently on the claim by Iain Duncan Smith that he had been unhappy with the extent of cuts that George Osborne was demanding from the welfare budget.

Some light has been thrown on this by David Laws’ book Coalition, written before IDS’s resignation but published since.

Largely it seems to confirm Duncan Smith’s position. Not that he is a welfare dove by any means – for example when a complete welfare freeze for 2012 was proposed, while inflation was running at 5 per cent (p102)

Iain Duncan Smith argued that the amounts were small – 5 per cent of a small weekly benefit is a seemingly small amount of cash. But that missed the whole point, that for the poorest people, even small amounts of cash are a large proportion of disposable incomes. If you are living on the breadline, £5 a week is a lot.

The 5.2% benefits uprating went ahead against the wishes of the Treasury and the DWP, although there was a below-inflation 1% increase later in the parliament.

However, for all this, George Osborne was worse. (pp96-98)

IDS’s major objective was to make work pay and tackle welfare dependency. That did not mean he was opposed to welfare reforms and savings – far from it. But IDS’s aim was not cuts for cuts sake, but wider social reform and social recovery.

George Osborne had a rather different perspective. As chancellor, bluntly, he wanted the financial savings that welfare could bring. He saw the DWP budget as a cash cow to be milked, and he was skeptical of Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘big idea’ of Universal Credit…

George Osborne knew that he could be tough on IDS because the Prime Minister was not the Welfare Secretary’s biggest fan either. ‘Unless it’s got the letters “UC” on it, Iain’s just not interested.’ David Cameron once complained in front of fellow Quad members.

Ironically, therefore, Iain Duncan Smith often had to rely on the fourth of the big welfare players – Nick Clegg – to protect his budget from dramatic cuts. … he regarded it as indefensible for the government to target those on the lowest incomes rather than those with the greatest wealth.

The Lib Dem leader thought that a major weakness of David Cameron and George Osborne was that they had little sympathy with or understanding of people on very low incomes, and were inclined to write them off politically, as ‘not our voters’.

David Laws also writes of the ‘awful’ relations between the Treasury and the DWP, from a refusal to provide statistics, to making policy announcements in the other’s area without even a notification first.

This all seems to support Duncan Smith’s version of events – that he was always under pressure to find more cuts from welfare whether they could be justified or not. And without Nick Clegg in the Quad any more he was just too weak to resist them.

You can buy the book here.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017 and Doncaster North in December 2019 and is a councillor in Sheffield.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • nigel hunter 5th Apr '16 - 10:48am

    The poor don’t vote Tory therefore take money of them. Osborne now knows what people thought of this idea (disability row). I find it interesting that there is now a campaign on wealthy tax dodgers. This attack on tax dodgers is good and will resonate around the world. However as far as Osborne is concerned is this a way to raise funds so that he does not have to raises stealth taxes or direct taxes? In the end what will the country have left after he has obtained all the money from tax dodgers and the selling off of all British businesses so that the country is owned by foriegners?I can only think of tax rises.

  • How touching that Nick Clegg was able to intervene in an internal Conservative Party dispute about welfare spending. No wonder he never had time to put forward any Lib Dem proposals of welfare reform.

    As both Laws and Clegg support the spare room subsidy withdrawal, it is a bit of Chutzpah to claim £5 is a lot of money if your on the breadline or that indefensible for the government to target those on the lowest incomes.

  • @Caracatus. Joe Otten will never address the Sheffield Central humiliation I have attempted a response from him on this site many many times. Joe is more intrested in defending the awful Clegg legacy with pieces like this.

  • Geoffrey Payne 5th Apr '16 - 12:45pm

    I was always opposed to the welfare cuts that made poor people poorer. The Lib Dems have a mixed record on this. Yes it was good that they stuck to the 5% increase, but in other areas they gave way. For me it is even more interesting to know what David Laws thought of that. What did he think about the bedroom tax? Danny Alexander parroted the treasury line as though he believed in it as much as George Osborne. One of the hardest things about being a Lib Dem during this time was wondering whether Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander had a bottom line on any of these issues, or whether they could be bullied and made to give way. Or for that matter whether simply agreed to begin with.
    It would have been so much better if we had fought the Tories harder on these cuts. We could have threatened to vote against the budget and brought the Coalition to an end. Our supporters would have appreciated that their vote did count for something if we had done that. We missed our opportunity.

  • @ Geoffrey Payne. Spot on. Sadly as somebody who voted Lib Dem and then watched Danny Alexander and the other Top Table Lib Dems inflict the disgusting Bedroom Tax on the most needy I feel responsible. My pain will not touch the sadness of so many in your party who have watched the destruction of the Lib Dems. Joe Otten and others in the party should be constantly reminded of this. Oh by the way any chance of a response TO THE Sheffield Central humiliation Joe???

  • Geoffrey Payne 5th Apr '16 - 1:11pm

    @Silvio – no party has clean hands on this. It was Harriet Harman who proposed that Labour support some the Tory welfare cuts and the Lib Dems lead by Tim Farron opposed.
    I am now clear that neither party will support welfare cuts from now on.
    I didn’t leave the Lib Dems as I believe in fighting my corner from within, and I think Tim Farron’s election as leader vindicates my decision. He knows what hardship is and I do not believe he will let us down.

  • @ Geoffrey Payne. All well and good fighting from within but honestly isn’t it a little upsetting that the Joe Ottens of the party who brought it to its knees still have such a prominent part to play in todays Lib Dems. No response to the Sheffield Central humiliation from Joe yet. Come on Joe why so shy?

  • Tony Dawson 5th Apr '16 - 2:37pm

    I am seriously-intrigued as to why anyone associated with the Liberal Democrats is giving this book house room. I find nothing in the quotes above that we didn’t already know.

  • @ George Kendall – Sadly for the Lib Dems its down to the Joe Ottens of the party that nearly every seat is going to be a No Hope Seat this May.. Oh sorry to go on but any chance of a reply to the Sheffield Central humiliation Joe? George was happy to take your side so any hope of a reply from you -Just asking.

  • Matt (Bristol) 5th Apr '16 - 5:07pm

    These issues as are mentioned above are not that new, but whatever you feel about David Laws’ and Nick Clegg’s role in the coalition, it is still frustrating that very few people used this information now it is out in the open to seek to drive more of a wedge between the PM and his MPs when IDS resigned.

    They must know the PM and chancellor view them as lobby fodder whom he holds in contempt and will stab in the back given the chance, why do they continue to collaborate with him in plans which many of their followers hold some distaste for?

  • Matt (Bristol) 5th Apr '16 - 5:26pm

    Silvio, there’s reasonably opposing the policies of a faction of the party, and there’s snidely and personally attacking and hounding individuals in a public forum. One of them is reasonable, and one of them is nasty and wrong.

    Get it right.

  • Tony Dawson 5th Apr '16 - 6:55pm

    @George Kendall :

    ” These extracts have a common theme – describing how, during the Coalition, the Tories were constantly trying to be more regressive then we would let them.”

    George, isn’t that a bit like writing about water being wet? Who would think otherwise? The real problem is that there was no attempt at all of engaging with the voters about these differences. 🙁

  • Does the book disclose whether Danny Alexander agreed with George Osborne or IDS in these welfare cutting matters, Joe ?

  • I think people like Joe, who have the guts to risk public humiliation by standing in unwinnable seats, deserve our gratitude and should not be harassed for a result which had nothing to do with their performance as candidate. Our party depends on them and frankly I’d much rather be in a party with people like Joe who stand up for what they believe in than bitter ex – members who have nothing better to do than troll LDV contributors. Shame on LDV for evening publishing your harassment.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th Apr '16 - 8:52am


    We don’t necessarily see all comments as they are published. Joe has taken some really unjustified criticism in this thread and has been supported by other posters such as yourself and George. Perhaps in the future if you see comments like this, you might reflect that the LDV team is a volunteer team, we might not see everything as it’s published, especially when we are all busy with elections. The way to have your concern dealt with quickly is to email [email protected] and ask us. It’s a bit more constructive than adding to the already unjustified abuse in the thread, don’t you think?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Apr '16 - 12:16pm

    This looks like an interesting book by a thinking man we should not denigrate.

    Nor should we do so against the contribution of people like Joe Otten who add to our party and deserve our support and fellowship.

    And , as ever , as does the common sense and compassion of George Kendall .

  • Peter Watson 6th Apr '16 - 7:00pm

    @Caron Lindsay “The way to have your concern dealt with quickly is to email [email protected] and ask us.”
    A couple of times in the past I have explicitly posted a message to moderators in a thread where I have seen a comment I thought was being unnecessarily rude about somebody else. My own post would automatically go into moderation but that seemed to raise a flag somewhere and both times the moderators responded impressively quickly and effectively.
    Fittingly, the words in this post probably mean it will also temporarily disappear into the grey “awaiting moderation” box!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th Apr '16 - 7:04pm

    @PeterWatson, it attracts our attention, but it means that the thread is clogged up with moderation queries (guess where this post is going) so email is better.It’s also faster because ti doesn’t really on us checking the site to moderate comments.

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