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…