IDS’s rebirth is one of the wonders of the age

Widely mocked in the past, the current Work and Pensions Secretary has been tasked with carrying out the Tories' loathsome welfare reforms

Share
Related Topics

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 to allow a guess at 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 a 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 – or he was at least back in his varsity days when he knew that you can’t beat a bit of Bullingdon. If he tuned in yesterday, 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 Prime Minister has any strategy, encouraging us to regard benefit claimants as an innately inferior sub-species is it.

Return to form

We have been, of course, here before. During the 1980s imperium of Mrs Thatcher, when La Donna was anything but mobile as her Cabinet Wets begged her not to create a chasm of bitterness between the southern employed and northern unemployed, home crowds at London football grounds took to teasing visiting supporters on even more poisonous lines. “In your Liverpool slum, in your Liverpool slum,” went a ditty in vogue at Stamford Bridge. “You look in the dustbin for something to eat/You find a dead rat and you think it’s a treat/In your Liverpool slum.”

The debut of such badinage in a darting environment strongly suggests that the Tory policy of recreating such dissent 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 on tax credits, housing benefit and generally those regarded by some as needy and by others as scroungers intensifies.

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. Shortly after he beat Ken Clarke for the leadership, I met a man almost literally scratching his head in disbelief. “I used to run into him from time to time at Sloaney country house weekends,” he bemusedly muttered. “Nice enough chap, but the thickest ex-Guardsman I ever met. And that’s saying something.” And 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 to find non-existent jobs. In his defence, he seems genuinely to believe that stigmatising people by obliging them to use vouchers at the shops, and forcing millions without access to a computer to make their claims online, is tough love. Then again, he genuinely believed that he was the Moses to lead the Tories out of the electoral wilderness. Faith can be a peculiar thing.

Repugnant

Whether or not IDS means well – I would offer him the benefit of the doubt, but he’d only blow it on pizzas and satellite telly – the Chancellor palpably does not. George Osborne is staking whatever crumbs remain of his reputation as a clever tactician on fostering the resentment of those with jobs towards those cursed with unemployment. The future 15th baronet makes no pretence about this. So blatant is his ambition to victimise the poor that he tried to have IDS replaced, for being too soft, by a less reconstructed right-winger in the reshuffle.

So far at least, this false distinction between workers and shirkers – those who trudge off to the office or factory, in Osborne’s malevolent fantasy, while the feckless neighbours drowsily prepare for another day in front of Jeremy Kyle – is working as planned. The popularity of this wicked misrepresentation and the dilemma that poses for Ed Miliband 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. Some 30 years after Thatcher opened the divide, the party has no councillors, let alone MPs, in Liverpool, Newcastle and other Northern cities. Messrs Osborne and Cameron, clad in tails and throwing bread rolls at the time, have either learned nothing from the residual damage inflicted on their electoral chances, or are too preoccupied with short-term survival to care about the consequences of this thuggish reawakening of the monied South’s contempt for the destitute North. 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, to these ears, like one that can possibly end well.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner
 

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Richard Kemp
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need