Rebecca Tyrrel: Iain Duncan Smith's one novel was such a calamity, it never made it to a paperback edition


Who knew that Iain Duncan Smith is not only one-eighth Japanese, but also a distant cousin of George Bernard Shaw? Were the great Irish playwright still with us, he might try to disown the relationship with the Work and Pensions Secretary on two counts. He was not entirely convinced that his father was the bibulous George Carr Shaw, suspecting another member of his mother's amateur musical society by the name of George John Lee. But assuming GBS was the son of GCS, and not GJL, he would not like IDS's assault on welfare claimants. Another blood link is IDS's Japanese great-grandmother, Ellen Oshey, or as her Irish in-laws thought of her, Ellen O'Shea, or indeed EOS.

In 2003, IDS set up the Centre for Social Justice think tank and began his "tough love" mantra. But according to GBS, he could have saved himself the bother. "Do not waste your time on social questions," was Shaw's advice. "What is the matter with the poor is poverty. What is the matter with the rich is uselessness."

Sadly these two mighty political philosophers never met, Shaw dying six years before IDS was born, in 1956. GBS famously believed in psychic phenomena, however, and if IDS were to contact him and tell him that his painful responsibility is to end welfare dependency by making benefits claimants poorer, for instance, GBS would spout back a line from Caesar and Cleopatra: "When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty". If IDS countered that he is convinced his new universal credit scheme will work brilliantly, GBS would say, "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so sure of themselves, and wiser people are full of doubts".

The one area of common ground between the Fabian stalwart who was instrumental in the foundation of the Independent Labour Party and the Conservative minister is literary failure. GBS's first three novels were rejected by publishers, and although IDS did get his one and only novel into print, The Devil's Tune, published shortly after the Tories sacked him in 2003, was apparently such a calamity that it never made it to a paperback edition. As cousin GBS wrote in Major Barbara (who reached a higher rank in the Salvation Army than Lieutenant Duncan Smith of the Scots Guards): "He knows nothing, and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career".