Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Iain Duncan Smith puts ministerial career on the line after rolling out a barrel-full of jargon and clichés

 

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It’s a sure sign that a minister is under pressure when the jargon level rises. As Iain Duncan Smith defended himself today the jargonometer surged into the red zone.

Government programmes no longer start – they are “rolled out”, something that used to happen mainly to barrels.

But today the Work and Pensions Secretary took the term to new peaks.

“I intend to roll out a clear statement in the autumn about how and when we will roll this out,” he declared at one point. 

Since instead of fuddy duddy old “pilots” we now have “pathfinders”, he insisted that universal credit was not just “succeeding but progressing”. He said: “It is progressing because we have already started to roll out the pathfinders.”

In case we should doubt this optimism in the face of the National Audit Office’s excoriation of what it described as “weak management, poor governance”, he told MPs that he was not being “over-bullish”. Certainly no-one could accuse him of being under-bullish.

Forget about the “historic” problems highlighted in the report. Jobseekers’ allowance and tax credit, which the new system will replace, would be closed down “well before the election”.

About a dozen times, at a rough count, Duncan Smith promised to deliver the programme “on time and on budget” – or occasionally, for the sake of variation, “on budget and on time”.

This gelled with the defence against his shadow Liam Byrne’s charge that having said in  March that the programme was “proceeding exactly in accordance with plans” he had “let this House form a picture of universal credit  which the nation’s auditors say is wrong”.

The subtext of that defence seemed to be that yes, the IT  system was a total shambles  but because he had then “re-set”  it, there was no need to bother  MPs with the turbulent, but essentially irrelevant, backstage goings on.

Now that they were in the open, his explanations for who was to blame for those  goings-on were somewhat varied.

“I am not blaming civil servants,” he insisted, before adding in the same breath that he “made decisions that led to the removal  of some of those who were  charged with the responsibility of delivering this”.

So that was clear. He was not blaming those civil servants who he didn’t sack.

But none of this really mattered because it was all now on target. Quite a gamble.

Or put another way, the Duncan Smith career could now depend on a roll-out of the dice.

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