Matthew Norman on Monday: IDS gives Britain's jobless the doubts of his benefits


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The Independent Online

Concerns that the Government is secretly operating a positive-discrimination scheme, whereby the possessor of a double-figure IQ is randomly selected for the Cabinet, were assuaged yesterday.

When Iain Duncan Smith joined Eddie Mair on the unwell Andrew Marr’s Sabbath sofa, the Work and Pensions Secretary derided the rumours about his intellectual capacity when dismissing the courtroom setback to his plan to make the jobless work for a minimum hourly wage of £0.00.

“I absolutely tell you this. People can’t do nothing and take benefits,” he said, reflecting not on his personal history (see below) but on the geology graduate Cait Reilly, who was illegally coerced into swapping volunteer work at a museum for unpaid work at Poundland. The High Court said this was absolutely fine, IDS explained, and what the Court of Appeal thought it was doing in hearing the appeal, let alone granting it, is anyone’s guess. “I’m sorry,” he went on, “there’s a group of people out there who think they’re too good for it. Next time one of these smart people who say there’s something wrong with this go into the supermarket, ask themselves this simple question. When they can’t find the food on the shelves, who is more important? Them the geologists, or the person who stacks the shelves?” Utterly, utterly brilliant.

Now those of us who are unable to locate eggs in an aisle confusingly marked “Eggs” will know who to blame: those fancy-pants scientists who fixate on the trivia, such as how to save the economy by making fracking pay, when they should be stacking shelves.

Even ministers have claimed the dole

IDS spent six months on the dole himself after leaving the Army in 1981, yet curiously there is no record of him doing unpaid work to safeguard his self-respect. Obviously, he volunteered for some noble cause, such as shelf-stacking, because the great altruist who eventually found work selling arms for GEC-Marconi  would not have lounged around in his jim-jams while the neighbours braved the commute. Perhaps he would care to tell us about these good works. The image of IDS as archetypal welfare scrounger  is simply too painful to bear.

The Welsh wizard with journalistic prowess

Still with frontbench titans, it’s refreshing to note how well Wales is served these days. The talent of  the Welsh Secretary David Jones, who feels gay couples cannot provide children with “a warm and safe environment”, is matched by his Labour shadow, Owen Smith. Rod Liddle, who as editor of the Today programme once hired him as a producer, recalls asking Owen to arrange an interview with a senior copper. “Owen dialled 999,” writes Liddle. “Asked which emergency service he required, he said: ‘Police. I want an interview with the Chief Constable NOW’.”

Yet again, The Sun fails to lead by example

Dominic Mohan’s editorship of The Sun continues to impress. “What were This Morning thinking when they broadcast a photo of a pregnant Duchess of Cambridge in a bikini,” mused a leader on Thursday. “It was either an appalling blunder of a deeply cynical trick to boost viewing  figures. We suspect the worst.”   By eerie happenstance, on the same day Dominic filled his front page with the photo of Reeva Steenkamp in a bikini, within 24 hours of her death in Pretoria. We do not suspect the worst.

McKenzie… for once Fleet Street’s quiet man

Worrying times for Dominic’s best-loved predecessor. Kelvin McKenzie is threatened with a civil lawsuit for malfeasance over the eccentric Sun coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy that resulted after he recast himself as a copy-taker to take down the South Yorkshire police’s fantasies in perfect shorthand. It is almost as if victims’ families doubt the sincerity of his “profuse apologies”, offered so promptly last autumn barely 23 years after the event.

In fact, Kelvin is so riven with guilt that he cannot bring himself to discuss the matter at all, and has vanished from  public life. No doubt the silence will end, and he will be back brimming with good sense before long. Do not, as a gleaming-pated genius once told a Tory conference, underestimate the determination of a quiet man.