Few of us on the left will easily forget the dismal pall that settled over the nation in May last year, the day after Lord Snooty and His Pals defied the polls and won their 12-seat majority. Anger, incomprehension, stupefaction, frustration and despair – these were the emotions that so many of us felt, whatever part of the spectrum we came from. Whatever reservations we had about the Miliband team – and many of us had a great deal – we saw Cameron’s victory as a reward for a government that had already set new standards in callous brutality even in coalition, and which was only going to get worse when it wasn’t in one.
Many of us will remember the equally astounding events that have have unfolded over the last few days with very different emotions. We might not be able to echo Wordsworth and say that bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, because it’s still too early to tell what kind of dawn it’s going to be and whether daybreak is even going to break at all, but spring has at at least brought the hugely enjoyable and satisfying spectacle of a Tory Party tearing itself apart.
Only a few days ago Osborne came waltzing into parliament, with the same cruel arrogant smirk on his face that he probably wears in his sleep, and cheerfully announced that he was going to take away £3,500 a year from some 370,000 people as a result of cuts to Personal Independence Payments (PIPs), introduce a swathe of cuts for corporations and high earners and – something that has got rather less attention – sell the government’s share of RBS for £22 billion less than the £45 billion public bailout that the bank received in 2008.
Osborne also announced almost in passing that all schools were going to become academies and that he was going to cut more than £1 billion from the NHS repairs budget. He did this for the same reason he and his awful government have done so many things since last year: because they interpreted a 12-seat majority as a carte blanche to do whatever they liked; because they no longer believed that anyone could oppose them; and perhaps because they recognized that they only had a brief window of opportunity to complete their headlong transformation of Great Britain Inc into a Thatcherite utopia.
And now, in the space of a few days, it’s all gone pear-shaped, and all because a little bald man handed in a letter of resignation. When I first heard that Ian Duncan-Smith had resigned over Osborne’s budget, I was surprised. When I heard that he’d resigned because he thought the budget was unfair and immoral, I thought April Fool had come early.
I know the papers and Duncan-Smith’s friends like to talk about how upright he is and how he had a moral mission to reform welfare, but when I think of some of the tragedies that unfolded on his watch without a whisper of complaint from him, I’m not disposed to regard him as a paragon of moral virtue or a champion of fairness, thank you, even if he seems to think he is.
I do however, thank him for the damage he’s done, and for the deep cracks in the Tory party ranks that he’s brought to the surface, because now this brittle government is cracking on all fronts. Even Nicky Morgan, the hapless Education of Secretary who inexplicably allowed herself to be photographed recently with a tropical plant in the background, looking like a Wicked Witch recently escaped from Hell, thought she could just come sashaying into Mumsnet and prattle on about how academies were good for their children and promising visitors to the site a ‘parent portal’ through which they could express their views.
But now what she thought was a passive audience has responded with a bombardment of hostile criticism and a robust defense of the same system that she wants to abolish.
Morgan, like Osborne and Cameron, might have seen this coming. But she clearly suffers from the same surfeit of arrogance which has made her colleagues blind to the deep anger and resentment that their brutalist policies have finally begun to stir up. Jeremy Hunt made the same mistake when he failed to understand that the doctors he vilified and told lies about were actually popular with the public.
Now the rest of the government is learning to its surprise and dismay that their election victory was not a carte blanche after all, and that a significant and ever-growing section of the public finds them downright repellent. Maybe if you have a whopping majority you can ignore this kind of thing and get away with the incredible tactical blunders that Osborne made last week, but 12 seats don’t give you much room for manoeuvre when you’re trying to impose changes on the scale that Lord Snooty and His Pals are intent on.
Perhaps IDS realised this, whatever ulterior motives he might have had for his belated discovery of a conscience, but even if he is not the right man to hold his party up to moral scrutiny, we can only be grateful to him for his intervention. When pundits write about episodes like this, they often like to pile on the hyperbole and say it’s like a Shakespearian tragedy, but this Tory twilight of the ghouls isn’t tragic and it isn’t Shakespeare. On the contrary it’s pure unadulterated pleasure to watch it unfold and to see the arrogance, vindictiveness, fanaticism and incompetence of this government laid bare for all to see.
So perhaps it is tragic for them, but from where I’m standing it’s pure unadulterated satisfaction, and it’s beginning to make last May look a lot better.