Ever since Mr Tony Blair foresaw its luminous success and made the Millennium Dome the first line of Labour’s 2003 manifesto, party leaders have been understandably timid about predictions of that kind. Nonetheless, I make this suggestion to David Cameron. He should announce that the first line of his 2015 manifesto will read: “Don’t kick us out, or you’ll end the cherished British tradition of waking on Sunday to Iain Duncan Smith talking surreal gibberish on telly.” IDS’s latest tour de force, in conversation with Andrew Marr, concerned the rule change whereby the disabled now qualify for the full Personal Independence Payment if they cannot walk 20 yards, where before it was 50 yards. The rationale is hotly disputed. On one side are most sentient beings, if not all other than one, who see the intent as removing from or lowering payments to those who can walk the shorter distance but not the longer one. It was easy to guess why Marr, with depleted motor function since his stroke, seemed so aerated by this cruelty. On the other, IDS parotted the mantra about “making the system fairer”. He couldn’t recall how many of the 11,049 people surveyed about this agreed with him, though Marr reminded him that the number is seven. He suffered another memory lapse when asked how many have lost benefits because of the change, claiming not to be aware of anyone who has; Marr refreshed him that it is in fact in the tens of thousands.
Yet, as so often with Iain, his linguistic brilliance competed for the attention with his laissez faire relationship with the strict truth. “It is a criteria by which, if people succeed at that,” he explained of the new 20-yard rule, “they’ll get full support.” What a fantastic triumph it must be, to succeed at not being able to walk less than the length of a cricket pitch. As for the commitment to fairness, this drew another exquisite formulation. “Actually, it will be better for them,” said Iain of those newly impoverished because they can walk 20 yards, but not 50, “in the long run”.
Guess what? This Miller business is a witch-hunt
IDS offered could only nuanced support for Maria Miller, insisting that the PM should consider her future while citing the danger of – what else? – “a witch-hunt”. He might have added that her only mistake was not having a father-in-law with a Jacobean mansion in which she could live rent free, but passed on that. Yet no one could accuse the Tory backbencher Therese Coffey of sending out mixed messages. This priceless presence on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee has been touring the studios to insist that the relevant Secretary of State ain’t done nuffink, nor nuffink, nor not. What comfort for Maria this must be. The last embattled figure to whose defence Therese publicly came was Rebekah Brooks. In 2011, she informed the House that Mrs Brooks was the victim of – go on, have a guess – “a witch-hunt”.
Nadine Dorries, another Farage in the making
Also enjoying a raised media presence is the Emily Bronte of Merseyside. Nadine Dorries has published her debut novel, The Four Streets, and according to Ann Treneman, interviewing her sympathetically in The Times, it isn’t half bad. Nadine is one of those rare political peacocks who connects with the punters, in the loose manner of the late Bob Crow and Nigel Farage, and a feeling in my water presages a startling bout of revisionism, with her eccentricities restyled as proof of her salt-of-the-earthiness.
She is also, of course, a searingly original thinker, as she established in an impassioned article in this newspaper five years ago, when she raided the thesaurus in contemplation of the MPs’ expenses scandal, and dredged up “McCarthyite witch-hunt”.
There should be no secrets between friends
I am riven by yet another fit of the vapours after reading a Daily Mail article which ghoulishly dwells on the part played in the Police Federation’s Plebgate catastrophe by my friend Jon Gaunt. In his latter capacity as one of Coventry’s top-ranked media strategists, the former shock jock and discarded Sun columnist orchestrated the meeting in Mitchell’s Sutton Coldfield constituency about which the attending coppers told some porkies.
As for the “PC Pleb and Proud!” T-shirts worn by officers at the 2012 Tory conference, by some uncanny happenstance, the Mail reveals, these were made by a firm owned by a certain Jon Gaunt. Gaunty was unable to comment, citing “confidentiality” eight times. But one day, as his supporters know, he will clear his name, and bring this witch-hunt to an end.
Wee Dougie deserves a break, in public at any rate
In the Mail on Sunday, meanwhile, is a disturbing report about further tensions within Labour high command. Harriet Harman and Ed Balls have been overheard moaning, outside the latter’s office, about election supremo Douglas Alexander, who moonlights as shadow Foreign Secretary. “The trouble with Douglas is that he just isn’t engaged at the moment,” Harman told Balls, apparently, who nodded in agreement. Wee Dougie, bless him, has never really recovered from his lengthy stint as Gordon Brown’s favourite glove puppet – and given what a clunking fist he had inserted up him, small wonder about that. But he doesn’t deserve this public contempt, and we ask his colleagues to desist. It’s an easy mistake, but if they must moan about the little man, common courtesy demands they do so on the other side of an office door.
The first item in this article has been amended to refer to the Personal Independence Payment, which is the benefit to be tested by the 20 yard rule