Matthew Norman: Stigmatising the poor is a Tory winner

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The Independent Online

The PDC World Darts Championships concluded last night, and with the bookies going 10/11 the pair at the time of writing, it is far too close to call whether Phil "The Power" Taylor beat the Dutchman "Mighty" Mike van Gerwen. But one thing Mystic Matt will predict is this: at sporadic intervals during last night's Sky Sports broadcast, a raucous Alexandra Palace audience welcomed 2013 with a chant aimed at viewers in less cosseted economic regions.

Sung to the tune of La Donna e Mobile, and increasingly popular with the north London crowd as the tournament progressed, the lack of lyrical variety is its least disappointing aspect. "We pay your benefits, we pay your benefits," it goes. "We pay your benefits, we pay your benefits."

David Cameron is famously a fellow darts fan. If he tuned in, he will not have found this as alarming and depressing as I did. Far from it, he will have been thrilled by the taunting, because in so far as the PM has any strategy, encouraging us to regard benefit claimants as an innately inferior sub-species is it.

Such badinage in a darting environment strongly suggests that the Tory policy is succeeding, and small wonder with Iain Duncan Smith's Work and Pensions department planting stories about large families on benefits and other supposed wastrels in friendly tabloids on a daily basis. The Government will expect to pluck much more of this low-hanging fruit in the coming months as its assault intensifies on tax credits, housing benefit and generally those regarded by some as needy and by others as scroungers.

This reinvention of IDS, sacked by his party in 2003 on the twin grounds of being preternaturally incompetent and sensationally dim, is one of the wonders of the political age. Here he is reborn as the deepest of thinkers on the most intractable of social problems… a gleaming-pated anti-Beveridge presiding over the computerised "universal credit" scheme, due imminently and designed to liberate the long-term unemployed by shaming them into finding non-existent jobs. In his defence, he seems genuinely to believe that stigmatising people by obliging them to use vouchers at the shops, and obliging millions without access to a computer to make their claims online, is tough love.

So far at least, this false distinction between workers and shirkers is working as planned. The popularity of this wicked misrepresentation is the one visible oasis on an otherwise arid Conservative trek towards the 2015 election. More than morally repugnant, it is unbelievably dangerous for the country and the Tories themselves. A year ushered in by the strains of "We pay your benefits, we pay your benefits" from the mouths of beery London arrows fans does not sound like one that can possibly end well.