Monday 23 December 2013

Iain Duncan Smith - when politics goes bad

Iain Duncan Smith, a man who I used to believe had a shred of decency somewhere about him, has turned out to be a lethal combination of incompetence and vindictiveness. We only need to concentrate on the latest revelations about the continuous car crash of his career. Like a drunk driver, IDS swerves from lamppost to lamppost, wreaking havoc on other people's lives but never his own.

The latest revelations just add more to what we already know. He piles misery on other people.

He apparently needed an armed bodyguard to get him to the Work and Pensions select committee meeting, and a bodyguard in the room with him - was it to throw himself in front of any question that might force IDS to tell the truth?

He denies that anything is going wrong with Universal Credit despite massive write offs of public money for bungled software implementations and deep slippage of the numbers being processed.

The Work Capability Assessment is still causing deep problems and continuing misery to thousands of ordinary, decent, respectable claimants, and even deeper misery for people with mental illness, who - three years after Professor Harrington started making recommendations for improvement, are still very badly served by the system.  Duncan Smith and then junior minister Chris Grayling have consistently claimed that Harrington supported the principle and the roll out, which Harrington now forcefully denies.

His latest wheeze is to go after part time workers. 1.5 million want to work more but there is no work for them to do. IDS plans to blame them for the lack of work and cut what benefits they are getting if they are not deemed to be looking for more work hard enough.

He already blames the unemployed for their unemployment. They are sent on courses where they have to be enthusiastic, change their mood, make themselves believe that they can be employed. (You don't believe me? Read this - written by proper psychologists without an axe to grind.)

The Work Programme and its offshoots are bad enough, but we also hear about duplicity in its management.

He is quite happy to have an arbitrary and vicious regime of sanctions rendering claimants destitute for the slightest misdemeanour, or even perceived misdemeanour. Or, it appears possibly, carefully engineered misdemeanour.

He laughs through a Commons debate about food banks, and the destitution in people's lives that force them to go there, until he leaves the debate well before its end, then refuses to meet the Trussell Trust, and dismisses their concerns as scaremongering.

Why is somebody so incompetent, but above all so vindictive still in office? This is where politics goes bad, because the answer lies in the workings of the political machine. IDS is not all that unpopular in the country at large, primarily because many, many people have swallowed the rhetoric about benefit scroungers. But he is unpopular enough. He is incompetent enough to spoil the Tory brand of being the competent party, and, although he's not the only one, that should lower his stock. It's not just obvious mistakes, like misusing statistics in such a way that he was bound to get criticised, it's the policy mistakes, like the bedroom tax that is set fair to cost far more than it saves.

But a certain number of Tory MPs agree with him whole heartedly, viz the number jeering and laughing through that debate on food banks. And other Tories cover up for him too.    How long will they continue to do so?

The problem is that, in Tory party terms, he is fireproof. He remains popular among enough MPs to give Cameron a real problem if he were to remove him. He can't shunt him sideways because IDS has apparently made it clear that he would resign rather than do any other job. (He really, really likes bullying people. If only it were just bullying people rather than rendering them homeless, hopeless, or even dead.) Not only that but there is the character and the temper of IDS himself. Cameron would rather keep him in office than have him on the back benches spreading his poison among the Tory right wing, and quite probably plotting to oust Cameron in an attempt to redeem his own failures. For that everybody else pays the price, particularly the millions of benefit claimants who suffer IDS's own personal brand of poison. Cameron obviously thinks that is a price worth paying.

At some point the political calculus may change, and if it does (I pray it does soon) the crash is likely to be hard and loud. But until then we continue to suffer the consequences of politics gone bad. The internal workings of the Tory party continue to foist on the rest of us the most poisonous minister I have ever seen in office (and I'm aware there is much competition for that epithet).


Unknown said...

Hole in one!

RedMiner said...

Excellent piece. Much better than most of what we read in the mainstream press, even that broadly sympathetic to the left.

Rob Parsons said...

DO you mean Iain Duncan Smith, Brian?

On a slightly more serious note: thank you.

Rob Parsons said...

Thank you, RedMiner.

Unknown said...

James Purnell wasnt much better in a lot of respects. IDS is a more egotistical, hateful Purnell.

Rob Parsons said...

Purnell's career was a bit odd - I think it shows he didn't really have the stomach for politics. But I think his stint at DWP illustrates just how much Labour had bought into the Tory discourse of claimant = scrounger, unless elderly.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. The fall is complete.

Rob Parsons said...

Thanks, Alastair.