Iain Duncan Smith
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Iain Duncan Smith

Sir Iain Duncan Smith

Official portrait of Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP crop 2.jpg
Duncan Smith in 2020
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

12 May 2010 - 18 March 2016
David Cameron
Yvette Cooper
Stephen Crabb
Leader of the Opposition

13 September 2001 - 6 November 2003
MonarchElizabeth II
Tony Blair
DeputyMichael Ancram
William Hague
Michael Howard
Leader of the Conservative Party

13 September 2001 - 6 November 2003
DeputyMichael Ancram
William Hague
Michael Howard
Chair of the Social Justice Policy Group

12 September 2016
Rory Brooks

7 December 2005 - 12 May 2010
Position established
Mark Florman
Member of Parliament
for Chingford and Woodford Green
Chingford (1992-1997)

9 April 1992[1]
Norman Tebbit
Majority1,262 (2.6%)
Personal details
George Ian Duncan Smith

(1954-04-09) 9 April 1954 (age 66)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Political partyConservative
Spouse(s)Betsy Fremantle
Alma materRoyal Military Academy Sandhurst
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom
Branch/serviceFlag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service1975-1981
UnitScots Guards
Battles/warsThe Troubles

Sir George Iain Duncan Smith (born George Ian Duncan Smith; 9 April 1954), often referred to by his initials IDS, is a British politician who served as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions from 2010 to 2016. He was previously Leader of the Conservative Party and Leader of the Opposition from 2001 to 2003. He has been Member of Parliament (MP) for Chingford and Woodford Green, formerly Chingford, since 1992.

The son of a Royal Air Force flying ace, Duncan Smith was born in Edinburgh and raised in Solihull. After education at the training school HMS Conway and Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, he served in the Scots Guards from 1975 to 1981, seeing tours in Northern Ireland and Rhodesia. He joined the Conservative Party in 1981. After unsuccessfully contesting Bradford West in 1987, he was elected to Parliament at the 1992 general election.

After the resignation of William Hague, Duncan Smith won the 2001 Conservative Party leadership election, partly owing to the support of Margaret Thatcher for his Eurosceptic beliefs. However, many Conservative MPs came to consider him incapable of winning the next general election and, in 2003, passed a vote of no confidence in his leadership; he immediately resigned and was succeeded by Michael Howard.

Returning to the backbenches, Duncan Smith became a published novelist. He then founded the Centre for Social Justice, a centre-right think tank independent of the Conservative Party, and became chair of its Social Justice Policy Group. In May 2010, new Prime Minister David Cameron appointed him to serve in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. He resigned from the Cabinet in March 2016, in opposition to Chancellor George Osborne's proposed cuts to disability benefits.

Early life, military service and professional career

Duncan Smith was born George Ian Duncan Smith on 9 April 1954 in Edinburgh. A second "i" was added to his middle name "Ian" later in life,[2] with several explanations given: Smith changed it himself to prove that he was committed to Scotland; the person who filled out his birth certificate made a mistake; Smith's mother registered him, but Smith's father who was a Scottish patriot later suggested to his son to change it.[3]

Smith is the son of Wilfrid George Gerald "W. G. G." Duncan Smith, a decorated Royal Air Force flying ace of the Second World War, and Pamela Summers, a ballerina. His parents married in 1946. One of his maternal great-grandmothers was Ellen Oshey, a Japanese woman living in Beijing who married Pamela's maternal grandfather, Irish merchant seaman Captain Samuel Lewis Shaw.[4] Through Ellen and Samuel, Duncan Smith is related to Canadian CBC wartime broadcaster Peter Stursberg (whose book No Foreign Bones in China records their story) and his son, former CBC vice-president Richard Stursberg.[5]

Duncan Smith was educated at Bishop Glancey Secondary Modern, Solihull, until the age of 14, and then at HMS Conway, a Merchant Navy training school on the Isle of Anglesey, until he was 18.[6][7] There, he played rugby union in the position of fly-half alongside Clive Woodward at centre.[7] In 1973, he spent a year studying at the University for Foreigners in Perugia, Italy.[n 1][8] He then attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Scots Guards as a second lieutenant on 28 June 1975, with the Personal Number 500263.[7][9] He was promoted to lieutenant in the Scots Guards on 28 June 1977.[10] During his service, he served in Northern Ireland and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe),[11] where he was aide-de-camp to Major-General Sir John Acland, commander of the Commonwealth Monitoring Force monitoring the ceasefire during elections.[12] He retired from the army on 2 April 1981, moving to the Regular Army Reserve of Officers.[13] He ceased to belong to the Reserve of Officers on 29 June 1983.[14]

Duncan Smith worked for GEC Marconi in the 1980s and attended the company's staff college Dunchurch College of Management. He did not gain any qualifications at Dunchurch and completed six separate courses lasting a few days each, adding up to roughly a month in total.[8]

Early parliamentary career

At the 1987 general election Duncan Smith contested the constituency of Bradford West, where the incumbent Labour Party MP Max Madden retained his seat.[15] At the 1992 general election he stood in the London constituency of Chingford, a safe Conservative seat, following the retirement of Conservative MP Norman Tebbit. He became a member of the House of Commons with a majority of nearly 15,000.[16][17] A committed Eurosceptic, he became a constant thorn in the side of Prime Minister John Major's government of 1992 to 1997, opposing Major's pro-European agenda at the time (something that would often be raised during his own subsequent leadership when he called for the party to unite behind him).[18]

Duncan Smith remained on the backbenches until 1997, when the new Conservative leader William Hague brought him into the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Social Security. At the 1997 general election, boundary changes saw his constituency renamed Chingford and Woodford Green and his majority of 14,938 was reduced to 5,714. Duncan Smith realised the dangers that he and neighbouring Conservative MPs faced, so redoubled his efforts: "We spent the final week of the campaign working my seat as if it was a marginal. I held on but everywhere around me went."[19] In 1999, Duncan Smith replaced John Maples as Shadow Secretary of State for Defence.[20]

Leader of the Conservative Party

William Hague resigned after the Labour Party continued in government with another large parliamentary majority following the 2001 general election. In September 2001, Duncan Smith was the successful candidate in the Conservative Party leadership election. Although he was initially viewed as an outsider, his campaign was bolstered when Margaret Thatcher publicly gave her support for him. His victory in the contest was helped by the fact that his opponent in the final vote of party members was Kenneth Clarke, whose strong support for the European Union was at odds with the views of much of the party.[21]

Due to the September 11 attacks, the announcement of Duncan Smith gaining the Conservative leadership was delayed until 13 September 2001. In November 2001, he was one of the first politicians to call for an invasion of Iraq and held talks in Washington, DC, with senior US officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz.[22]

In the 2002 local elections, the first of two elections in which Duncan Smith led the party, the Conservatives gained 238 extra seats on local councils, primarily in England.[23] The 2002 Conservative Party conference saw an attempt to turn Duncan Smith's lack of charisma into a positive attribute, with his much-quoted line, "do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man".[24] This prompted Labour backbenchers to raise their fingers to their lips and say "shush" when he was speaking during Prime Minister's Questions.[25]

Amid speculation that rebel MPs were seeking to undermine him, Duncan Smith called on the party to "Unite or die."[26] On 23 February 2003, The Independent on Sunday newspaper published an article saying that 14 MPs were prepared to sign a petition for a vote of no confidence in Duncan Smith (25 signatories were then needed) for a vote on his removal as leader.[27] Duncan Smith's 2003 conference speech favoured an aggressive hard-man approach which received several ovations from party members in the hall. "The quiet man is here to stay, and he's turning up the volume", Duncan Smith said.[28]

In the 2003 local elections, the Conservatives gained 566 seats.[29] Despite the gains made, Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Crispin Blunt resigned. He called Duncan Smith's leadership a "handicap" as he had "failed to make the necessary impact on the electorate," and said that he should be replaced.[30] These worries came to a head in October 2003 when journalist Michael Crick revealed he had compiled embarrassing evidence, this time of dubious salary claims Duncan Smith made on behalf of his wife that were paid out of the public purse from September 2001 to December 2002. The ensuing scandal, known as "Betsygate", weakened his already tenuous position.[31]

After months of speculation over a leadership challenge, Duncan Smith called upon critics within his party to either gather enough support to trigger a no-confidence motion or get behind him.[32] A no confidence vote was called on Wednesday 29 October 2003, which Duncan Smith lost by 90 votes to 75.[32] He stepped down eight days later on 6 November, with Michael Howard being confirmed as his successor.[33] Duncan Smith became the first Conservative leader who did not lead his party in a general election campaign since Neville Chamberlain.[34]

Return to the backbenches

Duncan Smith at Nightingale House, London, in March 2010 in his role as Chair of the Social Justice Policy Group

The same week as Michael Howard succeeding him, Duncan Smith's novel The Devil's Tune was released to negative critical reception.[35] In November 2003, he was appointed by Howard to the Conservative Party's advisory council, along with John Major, William Hague and Kenneth Clarke.[36]

In 2004, Duncan Smith established the Centre for Social Justice, a centre-right think tank working with small charities with the aim of finding innovative policies for tackling poverty.[37] On 7 December 2005, he was appointed Chairman of the Social Justice Policy Group, which was facilitated by the Centre for Social Justice.[37] His deputy chair was Debbie Scott, the Chief Executive of the charity Tomorrow's People. The group released two major reports, Breakdown Britain and Breakthrough Britain. Breakdown Britain was a 300,000 word document that analysed what was going wrong in the areas of Economic Dependence and Unemployment, Family Breakdown, Addiction, Educational Failure, Indebtedness, and the Voluntary Sector.[38]Breakthrough Britain recommended almost two hundred policy ideas using broadly the same themes.[39]

Duncan Smith was re-elected comfortably in Chingford and Woodford Green at the 2005 general election, almost doubling his majority.[40] In September 2006, he was one of fourteen authors of a report concerning antisemitism in Britain.[41] He was also one of the only early supporters of the Iraq surge policy.[42]

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Following the 2010 general election, Duncan Smith was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in the Cameron-Clegg coalition.[43] Under his leadership, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) rolled out Universal Credit and a new Work Programme, as well as implemented a real terms cut in benefits.[44][45][46][47] He also looked at "how to make it harder for sick and disabled people to claim benefits" by giving DWP staff more powers to conduct benefit eligibility tests and to strip benefits from claimants with serious but time-limited health conditions, but he was advised it would be illegal to introduce legislation not requiring parliamentary approval.[48] The DWP was criticised by The Trussell Trust, Oxfam and Justin Welby for "scandalous" and "unacceptable" rises in food poverty and people being forced to use food banks.[49][50] Duncan Smith himself was criticised by the UK Statistics Authority and National Institute of Economic and Social Research for breaking the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.[51][52][53][54]

Cameron-Clegg coalition

Shortly after being appointed, Duncan Smith said the government would encourage people to work for longer by making it illegal for companies to force staff to give up work at 65 and bringing forward the planned rises in the state pension age.[55] He announced reforms to simplify benefits and tax credits into a single Universal Credit payment, arguing welfare reform would make low earners better off in employment.[44] He promised targeted work activity, sanctions and possible removal of benefits for up to three years for those who refused to work.[56] Benefits claimants with part-time incomes below a certain threshold would become required to search for additional work or risk losing access to their benefits.[57] He said benefits were not a route out of child poverty but hundreds of thousands of children could be lifted out of child poverty if one of their parents were to work at least a 35-hour week at the national minimum wage.[58]

In June 2011, Duncan Smith announced welfare-to-work programs would be replaced with a single Work Programme, which included incentives for private sector service providers to help the unemployed find long term employment.[45] The DWP announced on the 2012 United Nations' International Day of Persons with Disabilities forced work for disabled people who received welfare benefits, in order to "Improve disabled people's chances of getting work by mandatory employment".[59] In the 2012 Cabinet reshuffle, Duncan Smith was offered the job at the Ministry of Justice replacing Kenneth Clarke, but declined, and remained in his post at the DWP.[60]

In April 2013, Duncan Smith said he could live on £53 per week as Work and Pensions Secretary, after a benefits claimant told the BBC he had £53 per week after housing costs.[61] Also in April, he called for wealthier people to voluntarily return universal winter fuel payments to help reduce the strain on public finances, prompting some wealthier pensioners to state they had already tried this but had their offers refused because there was no mechanism for returning payments.[62][63] In September, the DWP cancelled a week of "celebrations" to mark the impact of enhanced benefit sanctions.[48] In the same month, the DWP was subject to an "excoriating" National Audit Office report, accusing the DWP of having "weak management, ineffective control and poor governance" and of wasting £34 million on inadequate computer systems.[64] Duncan Smith dismissed allegations in Matthew d'Ancona's 2013 book In It Together that the Chancellor George Osborne had referred to him as "not clever enough". The allegations were also denied by Osborne.[65]

In May 2014, it was reported the DWP was employing debt collectors to retrieve overpaid benefits, the overpayment purely down to calculation mistakes by HM Revenue and Customs.[66] After the "workfare" element of the Work Programme was successfully challenged in the courts in 2013, Duncan Smith sought to re-establish the legality of the scheme through retrospective legislation but, in July 2014, the High Court ruled the retrospective nature of the legislation interfered with the "right to a fair trial" under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.[67][68] The DWP had said 1 million people would be placed on the new Universal Credit benefits system by April 2014, yet by October 2014 only 15,000 were assigned to UC. Duncan Smith said a final delivery date would not be set for this, declaring "Arbitrary dates and deadlines are the enemy of secure delivery."[69]

Cameron majority government

In August 2015, Duncan Smith was criticised after the DWP admitted publishing fake testimonies of claimants enjoying their benefits cuts.[70] Later the same month, publication of statistics showed 2,380 people died in a 3-year period shortly after a work capability assessment declared them fit for work leading Jeremy Corbyn to call for Duncan Smith's resignation.[71][72] At the 2015 Conservative Party conference, Duncan Smith said to the sick and disabled "With our help, you'll work your way out of poverty" while criticising the current system, which he said "makes doctors ask a simplistic question: are you too sick to work at all? If the answer is yes, they're signed off work - perhaps for ever."[73]

In March 2016, Duncan Smith unexpectedly resigned from the Cabinet. He stated that he was unable to accept the government's planned cuts to disability benefits.[74][75] He later launched an attack on the "government's austerity programme for balancing the books on the backs of the poor and vulnerable", describing this as divisive and "deeply unfair", and adding: "It is in danger of drifting in a direction that divides society rather than unites it."[76]

Later backbench career

Duncan Smith in 2017

In the 2016 EU membership referendum, Duncan Smith campaigned to leave the EU working with the Vote Leave campaign, stating that staying in the EU "leaves the door open" to the UK enduring terrorist attacks.[77][78] While he had opposed David Cameron over the referendum, sources close to Duncan Smith insisted his resignation was not about Europe.[79]

In the 2019 Conservative Party leadership election, Duncan Smith served as chairman for Boris Johnson's leadership campaign, resulting in an emphatic win, with over 50% of MPs and 66% of the Conservative membership voting for Johnson to become the next Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister.[80][81] He was knighted in the 2020 New Year Honours, for political and public service.[82] The honour sparked criticism, with more than 237,000 people signing an online petition, set up by Labour Party activist Dr Mona Kamal Ahmed, an NHS psychiatrist, demanding that it be rescinded.[83]

On June 2020, Duncan Smith launched the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, becoming the co-chair of the alliance in the UK with Labour peer, Helena Kennedy.[84] The alliance seeks to, "promote a coordinated response between democratic states to challenges posed by the present conduct and future ambitions of the People's Republic of China. By developing a common set of principles and frameworks that transcend domestic party divisions and international borders, our democracies will be able to keep the rules-based and human rights systems true to their founding purposes."[85] In a launch message, Duncan Smith explained, "This challenge will outlast governments and administrations and it transcends party politics."[86]

Political views

Views on gay rights and marriage

During his leadership campaign in 2001, Duncan Smith changed his stance from opposing repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 to supporting repeal.[87] In 2003, his decision to compromise on the repeal of Section 28 was described as "illogical" and "messy" by other Conservative MPs.[88] As leader, he imposed a three-line whip on a House of Lords amendment to the Adoption and Children Act 2002 that would have restricted adoption to married couples, thus ruling out unmarried heterosexual couples and gay couples. The amendment was rejected by 344 to 145, with eight Conservative MPs rebelling.[89]

Duncan Smith has become significantly involved in issues of family and social breakdown. He has stated his support for early interventions to reduce and prevent social breakdown.[90] In December 2010, he studied a state-sponsored relationship education programme in Norway, under which couples were forced to "think again" and confront the reality of divorce before formally separating. The policy has been credited with reversing Norway's trend for rising divorce rates and halting the decline of marriage in the country over the past 15 years. Duncan Smith said he was keen to explore ways in which similar approaches could be encouraged in Britain. Officials pointed out that such a programme would be expensive but that an approach could reduce the long-term cost of family breakdown, which has been estimated at up to £100 billion. Duncan Smith said couples in Norway were able to "work through what is going to happen with their children", which has "a very big effect on their thinking". "Many of them think again about what they are going to embark on once they really understand the consequences of their actions subsequently," he said.[91]

Duncan Smith said in February 2011 that it was "absurd and damaging" for ministers not to extol the benefits of marriage for fear of stigmatising those who choose not to marry. Duncan Smith said: "We do a disservice to society if we ignore the evidence which shows that stable families tend to be associated with better outcomes for children. There are few more powerful tools for promoting stability than the institution of marriage." He added that "The financial costs of family breakdown are incredibly high. But what is most painful to see is the human cost - the wasted potential, the anti-social behaviour, and the low self-esteem."[92] In April 2012, he signalled his support for same-sex marriage on the basis that it would promote stability in relationships.[93]

Views on immigration

Duncan Smith has said that tighter immigration controls are vital if Britain is to avoid "losing another generation to dependency and hopelessness". In a speech delivered in Spain he said that only immigrants with "something to offer" should be allowed into the country and that too often foreign workers purporting to be skilled take low-skilled jobs that could be occupied by British school leavers. According to The Daily Telegraph's analysis, the speech contained a warning to David Cameron "that a 'slack' attitude to immigration will result in the Coalition repeating the mistakes made under Labour, when the vast majority of new jobs generated before the recession were taken by immigrants". Duncan Smith believes that some companies are using immigration as "an excuse to import labour to take up posts which could be filled by people already in Britain". He says Britain needs an immigration system that gives the unemployed "a level playing field". "If we do not get this right then we risk leaving more British citizens out of work, and the most vulnerable group who will be the most affected are young people," he said.[94][95]

Views on social credit

Duncan Smith has called for cuts to Universal Credit to be reversed. Duncan Smith said, "Rolling out a new system, and pulling the money out of it the whole time, is very difficult to do it. It counters the whole purpose of what the welfare reforms are about."[96]

R (Miller) v. Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

On 3 November 2016 and in response to the decision of the High Court in R (Miller) v. Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on whether the UK government was entitled to notify an intention to leave the European Union under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union without a vote in Parliament, Duncan Smith stated that "it's not the position of the courts to tell parliament or the Government how that process should work. It never has been. Their job is to interpret what comes out of parliament, not to tell parliament how it goes about its functions."[97]


In December 2019, Duncan Smith voted in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement.[98] When the House of Commons debated the agreement at the time, Duncan Smith argued against further scrutiny by the House, stating that Members of the House "had more than 100 hours in committee over the last 3 and a half years ... If there is anything about this arrangement that we have not now debated, thrashed to death, I would love to know what it is."[99] In August 2020, Duncan Smith subsequently said that because of clauses buried in the fine print of the Withdrawal Agreement, it costs too much and denies the UK true independence, urging the UK government to denounce it.[100]

Personal life

Duncan Smith married Elizabeth "Betsy" Fremantle, daughter of the 5th Baron Cottesloe, in 1982. The couple have four children,[101] and live in a country house belonging to his father-in-law's estate in Swanbourne, Buckinghamshire.[102] He is a Roman Catholic.[103] He has been reported to support both Tottenham Hotspur,[104] where in 2002 he held a season ticket,[105] and Aston Villa.[106]


  1. ^ His biography on the Conservative Party website and entry in Who's Who originally stated he had studied at the University of Perugia in Italy. In response to the 2002 BBC investigation which found this statement to be untrue, his office stated he had in fact attended the University for Foreigners, a different institution in Perugia, for a year in 1973. He did not complete his course of study, sit exams, or gain any qualifications there.[8]


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External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Norman Tebbit
Member of Parliament for Chingford
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Chingford and Woodford Green
Political offices
Preceded by
Harriet Harman
Shadow Secretary of State for Social Security
Succeeded by
David Willetts
Preceded by
John Maples
Shadow Secretary of State for Defence
Succeeded by
Bernard Jenkin
Preceded by
William Hague
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Michael Howard
Preceded by
Yvette Cooper
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Succeeded by
Stephen Crabb
Party political offices
Preceded by
William Hague
Leader of the Conservative Party
Succeeded by
Michael Howard

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