the brilliantly leaping gazelle

Category: expenses

Iain Duncan Smith. Is there no start to his talent? Or his he the political equivalent of East 17?

Really? Is there no start to his talent? Or maybe it’s just me who thinks that Iain Duncan Smith puts the ‘me’ into mediocre? Actually, he does have talent, just not according to any accepted dictionary definition of the word, that is. Talent implies some degree of natural aptitude, skill or flair for a specific activity. Either that or being a highly attractive member of the opposite sex. He demonstrates none of the former, whilst I hope his wife considers him to be one of the latter.

To most of the rest of us who are not concerned by his personal attractiveness, it is his ideological attractiveness – or lack of – that is more pressing. IDS – or IBS as I sometimes refer to him as he gives me the sh*ts – is a Marmite politician. You either love him or hate him; your standpoint governed by whether or not you or anybody you know is a lucky beneficiary of his reform of the welfare system.

Now the first thing to point out about welfare reform is that it isn’t well, fair. (That topic is deserving of a post all its own, which it’ll get next week.). And that the second thing to point out about welfare reform is that it isn’t. Well not reform as defined by pretty much every English language dictionary. As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, reform is to “make changes in (something, especially an institution or practice) in order to improve it.” (my italics).

One cannot help but think of George Orwell’s essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ especially the sentence “It (the English Language) becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are 
foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”, when one thinks of his definition of reform. Or, if one is feeling a lot more charitable than his welfare reform is, one might deduce that Iain Duncan Smith is taking as his precedent that well known social campaigner Lewis Caroll and his political tract ‘Alice through the Looking Glass ’, “ ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’”

How else might one explain the decision of Iain Duncan Smith to redefine what is meant by child poverty. Despite calls from all of the U.K’s children commissioners to protect children from welfare cuts, his decision to plough forward with this idea is a good case of changing the facts to suit his purpose. I can’t be the only one to notice the irony in cutting the welfare budget to benefit future generations so they are not saddled with debt if it means exacerbating the hardship suffered by this younger generation.

In many ways Iain Duncan Smith reminds me of an ex boyfriend who’s been invited by the groom to the wedding of his ex. (You may or may not remember that at one point Iain Duncan Smith was once leader of the Conservative Party.) So imagine this scenario; David Cameron in an act to show he’s the lucky guy who gets the girl, he cultivates and maintains a friendship with Iain Duncan Smith. This is in order to constantly highlight to Iain Duncan Smith that the fiancée – the Conservative Party – much prefers him. That’s why he invites him to the wedding, to maximize his humiliation but he’s not alone in his misfortune. – Cameron also pulled the same stunt with William Hague. He also asks Iain Duncan Smith to oversee the catering, which he does by treating the poorly paid workers abominably in the hope that it will endear him to the newlyweds.

Or I could point out that Iain Duncan Smith is the political equivalent of East 17. East 17 recently held a gig in Dublin where only thirty people turned up. Iain Duncan Smith held a speaking event in Liverpool that attracted 67 people. Or of course I could have chosen to mention the fact that he had his official credit card cancelled by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) for claiming expenses he wasn’t entitled to. I could have drawn a nice little comparison between the treatments his department routinely hands out to the treatment he received. However, IPSA released a statement a couple of days later saying that the error had been entirely theirs. Which is somewhat ironic given the amount of errors that are to be found in the overall benefits budget.

Speaking of benefits this brings me nicely on to ‘Betsygate’ the wholly unintentional oversight whereby Iain Duncan Smith employed his wife Betsy as his secretary at a cost of £18,000. Despite her not doing constituency work, fortunately, an investigation cleared him of any deliberate wrongdoing. So that’s all good then.

Actually I was wrong. Iain Duncan Smith does have talents. Most notably for landing on his feet, by a) having lied about his university qualifications and then b) marrying into money resulting in the happy coincidence that c) he lives in a £2million house set in three acres on his father-in laws estate where d) he is the father to four children despite telling benefit claimants they should only have two children or risk sanctions. Essentially he is exactly the sort of person he quite happily demonizes.

And also he unites people. Admittedly against him but I suspect he see’s this as a vindication, not a condemnation, of what he’s doing. A wide cross section of think tanks, countless charities, trade unions and no end of advocacy groups and many thousands of people who’ve benefitted from his reform, who are cross with his ideological goal of shredding society’s safety net.

I had a vague idea of using the quote attributed to Winston Churchill that he is reputed to have made about Clement Atlee, “He was a modest man who had much to be modest about.” in relation to Iain Duncan Smith. But them I came to my senses. After the general election in 1945 Labour were swept to victory with a promise they reform. Actual reform, that is.

In the space of six years and with a crippling national debt accrued during WW2 – we only stopped paying the Americans back for their loans in 2006 – they created the National Health Service, laid the foundations for the welfare state and bought into public ownership the railways, the steel, electricity, gas and coal industry. So much so, that by 1951 20% of the U.K. economy was in public hands.

And they enhanced rights for workers. And women. (This was in 1945 after all!) And children. They set up legal aid. They made free secondary education a right. In fact they doubled spending on Education. I could go on but the point is that the sheer scale of their ambition is matched only by how much of it they achieved.

Iain Duncan Smith is to Clement Atlee what fast food is to haute cuisine.

Next week…how welfare reform isn’t well, fair…

Not so much so Nigel Farage but Nigels’ Farrago….

Before I start, here’s your starter for ten? How do you pronounce garage? Go on – try it out loud, I’m in no hurry. Done it? If you’re anything like me, then your pronunciation of garage will have sounded like how the word porridge sounds. But on the other hand, if you’re Nigel Farage then your surname sounds as if a pirate has hijacked it with the result that Farage becomes Faraaarhhge. Somehow he’s managed to convince every media outlet, every political commentator that his name is not pronounced the way it is spelt.

Jay Leno once said that politics is just show business for ugly people, and if it is, then Nigel has been taking lessons from Ralph Fiennes. Because whilst we all know how Ralph is pronounced, somehow we are duped into thinking that Ralph is pronounced something else. Must make for an interesting meeting when he meets up with Rafe Spall! That isn’t the only extent of Nigel’s attempt to play fast and loose with common perceptions. In a masterstroke of historical omission, he has managed to convince large swathes of the population that he isn’t like other career politicians, and that he alone can articulate the concerns of the ordinary voter.

His own personal website is helpfully vague on his early life, so to is the UKIP website. Fortunately there is Wikipedia, which informs us that Nigel’s father was a stockbroker and that he – not his dad but Nigel – went to Dulwich college (a public school) and upon leaving he embarked on a career as a trader in brokerage firms on the London Metal Exchange. This is the sole extent of his working history until he became an MEP (a Member of the European Parliament). So, not that different after all. A politician who went to public school and then worked in the city before becoming a politician. Sound familiar?

Only a cynic would point out that that is why his personal details are a suitably vague. Equally, if ones main hobby-horse is to bang on about a little Europe has done for this country, and how Britain would be better off divorcing ourselves from a political union with Europe, the last thing you want known is that not only do you command a large salary from being an MEP  – over £78,000 per year. (That’s not including paying your wife up to – no-ones quite sure – £20,00 a year for being your secretary) Or that your voting record is only 45.57%

No, what you wouldn’t want known by a public outraged by M.P’s expenses, was that you’d claimed over £2million in expenses since riding the gravy train first class.

Nigel likes to prove his man of the people credentials as often as possible, either being interviewed or photographed in a pub and is often seen drinking a pint. Is it only me that remembers that photo’s of that well regarded humanitarian Tony Blair being photographed with a mug of tea, strumming a guitar, or famously, when walking with the peace loving George Bush, having both hands tucked rather too self consciously into his jeans. Only me, I suppose who thinks that any politician who wants to appear like a ‘pretty regular kind of guy’’ – as Blair claimed to be – is usually anything but. This puts me in mind of Rowley Birkin QC. (Not that I’m writing that Nigel Farage is, or might become, like Rowley Birkin mainly because I don’t find him as funny or without such a tragic past. )

First let us consider that European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which Nigel Farage seems to find so at odds with British values that he wants us to leave it. In most UKIP supporters eyes the ECHR is synonymous with the European Union but this however, is a fallacy because they are both totally separate entities and besides which the ECHR has conferred many benefits to the citizens of this country. We have an unwritten constitution, meaning we have no set of legally enshrined laws, only vague rights which are open to interpretation by the courts. Since Britain signed up to the ECHR in 1959, a grand total of 500 cases have been presented to Strasbourg, which averages out at just under 8 a year, of which the U.K. has lost 60% of cases. 

(Which by the way is comparatively low amongst countries that have signed up to the ECHR, yet no other country has advocated withdrawal. And if we did opt out of the ECHR, we’d join the noted for human wrongs regimes of Belarus and Kazakhstan. Even Russia is signed up to the ECHR!) Another fallacy is that British judges are powerless in the face of the ECHR whereas in fact it is up to British judges to interpret the findings of the European court.

And then reflect on this, whereas Rowley Birkin Q.C. lost the love of his life in an air raid during World War Two, only a cynic of the very highest order would point out that the European Union was created to prevent, in part, by the forging closer a union between the states of Europe, both political and economic, to prevent such a horror ever happening again. And equally, it would be beneath contempt to point out that a politician from a minor party of no significance, by skillful oratory and a keen awareness of the power of the media, enflamed and manipulated public opinion to such a degree that mainstream parties were forced to react accordingly and move even further to the right. By demonizing immigrants’ tighter controls on immigration was espoused by the main parties to combat this growing threat to their electoral chances. But the electorate interpreted this as weakness and punished them at the ballot box. They wanted, and thought they got, clear, decisive and effective leadership, which would deliver them from the worst global financial crisis of the 20th century. Who cared about political freedoms, civil liberties and the gradual dismantling of civil society when there was only one party willing to take the necessary steps need safety? From whoever, or whatever, was the most politically expedient bogeyman of the moment. Equally in the midst of a global economic crisis, measures that were deemed superfluous to be in the immediate need of the nation could be sacrificed upon the altar of austerity with the dagger of necessity.

I am not for one second suggesting that Mr. Farage – or however one chooses’ to pronounce his surname – is any way comparable to the one testicled tyrant. What I am suggesting is that anyone voting for UKIP could easily be committing the electoral equivalent of going on a few dates and despite not knowing too much about them, getting married, and then realizing what a terrible mistake it was. UKIP is well named because anyone voting UKIP could be sleepwalking into a nightmare. At least, and for all their faults of which they’re many, one knows what one gets when one votes Conservative. The UKIP website is full of what they’ll scrap and what they’ll do but vague as to how exactly they’ll achieve them.

A vote for UKIP could well turn out to be Nigel’s Farrago because as saying goes, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’