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Crabb’s axe falls on austerity as Tories lick their wounds

Terry portrait with tieIf he achieves nothing else of note while in government,  Stephen Crabb may well go down as the man who brought an end to the welfare slaughter.

Mr Crabb was summoned from the Welsh Office on Saturday morning and hurriedly anointed as Work and Pensions Secretary to bring some stability after Iain Duncan Smith’s embarrassing resignation the night before.

In his first day in the job he declared that the reforms to disability allowances would not go ahead and there would be no more cuts to the welfare budget beyond those already agreed.

The unequivocal nature of his comments took Tory backbenchers by surprise and, in time, will be seen as one of the defining statements of this parliament.

In just a few sentences the former Welsh Secretary effectively brought an end to further austerity, raising a white flag in surrender to those on both sides of the House who were horrified by Chancellor George Osborne’s vicious attack on the disabled, described by Mr Duncan Smith as “a compromise too far”.

Unlike the Cabinet’s Eton set, Mr Crabb grew up on a council estate and will therefore be immune from the ‘posh Tory’ jibes from the Left. His statement was distinctly uncompromising in targeting those among his colleagues who seemed to have forsaken One Nation Toryism, something else that his predecessor mentioned among his reasons for leaving the government.

“A compassionate and fair welfare system should not just be about numbers. Behind every statistic there is a human being and perhaps sometimes in Government we forget that,” Mr Crabb told the Commons.

“I can also confirm that after discussing this issue over the weekend with my Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, we have no further plans to cut welfare spending beyond the very substantial savings legislated for by Parliament two weeks ago, which we will now focus on implementing.

“As we are required to do we will review the level of the cap at the Autumn Statement when the OBR formally reassesses it, but I want to repeat we have no further plans to make welfare savings.”

The government must now find £4.4 billion to replace the savings expected from the changes to Personal Independence Payments. Beyond that, there are reputations to salvage.

Mr Osborne, who tomorrow (Tue) faces the tough job of defending the Budget, was given a public vote of confidence by Prime Minister David Cameron, but behind the scenes he must have been told that one more bad result and he’ll no longer be in the dug-out.

The PIP scandal overshadowed what the Chancellor believed to be a Budget for working people. It was particularly favourable to those in work and running businesses. To those less fortunate, it seemed they were the ones being left to pick up the bill for a series of lavish tax cuts. His statement to the Commons could go a long way towards determining his own political future.

Mr Cameron will hope that the furore will settle quickly and that the Crabb declaration helps to soothe tempers, not least within his own party which is already a tinderbox as a result of divisions over Europe.

 

 

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