The Telegraph say Iain Duncan Smith would cut welfare by a further £3bn to prevent cuts to the forces and police, leaving Nick Clegg in an impossible position.
There is no doubt many Lib Dem members are uncomfortable with many of the changes and cuts to welfare that there have already taken place, and would hope that there would not be anymore, at least not this side of the election.
Instead, they believe the focus should now be on areas such as capital spending, bringing in a mansion tax, and continuing to reduce the level at which people pay income tax, not further reductions to benefits.
Coming just days after the attack in Woolwich, who wants to be the politician that says we should cut the army to support people who are not working?
Or, as one “senior Conservative source” quoted in today’s report puts it:
“It is now a simple choice, Iain Duncan Smith has offered a deal which will protect the country’s security.
“The Liberal Democrats will block it — and it will be for them to explain why it is more important for teenagers to be given council flats rather than for the nation and its citizens to be protected.”
The choice between security and benefits is arguably a straw man – there are plenty of alternative pots of money that the government could move around and pick from, not just benefits. However, it’s the case that is being presented.
While the Telegraph says that exchanges between IDS, Home Secretary Theresa May, and Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond on the deal took place prior to the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, it’s very telling that the detail has emerged now.
The timing is everything.
Unless Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander in the quad can convince the Conservatives to make at least some of these cuts from wealthy, non-working age, claimants, I cannot imagine much support for this in the Lib Dems. The party is suspicious of spending money on defence at the best of times.
This intervention has rather trapped Nick Clegg.