No more welfare cuts, for now

Stephen Crabb
Image caption Mr Crabb made his Commons debut as work and pensions secretary

"I'm absolutely flummoxed," one minister confessed. Everyone believes the same things they did this time last week, they explained, so why has so much changed?

A cabinet minister has resigned, Conservatives have spent much of the last couple of days taking lumps out of each other in public, and the government has, to use the awful but-oh-so-handy jargon, carried out a screaming U-turn on its Budget.

Late this afternoon, the new secretary of state for work and pensions Stephen Crabb then appeared to promise a new policy altogether - not just ditching the planned changes to Personal Independence Payments that have caused so much trouble, but a commitment from the government not to carry out any further raids on the welfare budget. In other words, a promise of no more benefit cuts, for now.

Mr Crabb provided the usual Westminster wriggle room - no "planned" extra cuts - rather than ruling out taking the axe to the benefits budget ever, ever, again.

But couple that with his comments in the Commons - "behind every statistic is a human being and perhaps sometimes in government we forget that" - and it seems the new secretary of state was displaying just as much sympathy with his predecessor's views as with the chancellor or the prime minister.

I'm told the plan to make that announcement was Mr Crabb's but the language was agreed by Downing Street and Number 11. The irony was perhaps that Iain Duncan Smith was nowhere to be seen in Westminster, absent for the announcement he might have longed to make himself

It seems his successor at least has some sympathy with IDS's view that the cuts to welfare have gone far enough.

PS: It's worth remembering of course that the government has already set in train £12bn of cuts to welfare - very significant cuts, too.

PPS: It's also worth noting that David Cameron gave his backing very publicly to George Osborne today. Tomorrow, the chancellor has to front up this mess in the Commons himself.

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