The restoration of middle-class privileges

Norman Tebbit once said when introducing IDS: 'If you think I'm right wing, wait until you meet this guy'
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The Independent Online

Platitude of the week: Iain Duncan Smith might be a useless leader, but at least the Tories have finally unveiled some decent policies. Has anybody actually read these new plans? IDS sensibly managed to avoid mentioning most of them in his speech yesterday. He was too busy accusing Tony Blair of killing David Kelly and of giving up Britain's ability to be a self-governing country.

Let's pay him the compliment of not responding in kind, but instead, let's take his policies seriously. If the Tories won the next election, what would they do for us?

The Tory leader declared in his speech that "we have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable". So when it comes to the two government programmes that most help the poor, what do the Conservatives plan? SureStart centres enable disadvantaged children to keep up with middle-class kids in the years before they start school. All the evidence suggests that this is the most effective way to deal with poverty in the long-term. Yet if you search for "SureStart" on the Conservative Party website, you find a range of irrelevant stories, including one about Gibraltar (Boo! Hiss! The Spanish are trying to steal it!) and another about Mr Blair not having an e-mail address. None of their policy documents mention the programme. Not once.

What about the child tax credit, which redistributes wealth to poor mothers? The Tories are "waiting to see" on this one - although they are committed to tax cuts and "small government", so it's not too hard to guess the fate of all those who depend on this cash.

IDS claims that he is "appalled at the waste of talent and potential" in Britain. So, naturally, he has decided to abolish the New Deal for the unemployed. He will rip up the programme that has brought long-term youth unemployment down to just 5,000, because - obviously - it is just a coincidence that this massive fall occurred after the New Deal was introduced.

In fact, the new Tory policies - which IDS claims are there to "help everyone" - are a naked attempt to reinforce middle-class privilege, and to exclude everybody else. IDS will abolish tuition fees and halt the move towards top-up fees - all paid for by slashing university places. This would recreate a massive subsidy for the middle classes, so they can spend three years reinforcing their already-privileged place in our society.

The new policy towards pensioners - to restore the link between pensions and average earnings - is similarly designed to featherbed comfortable Tory voters and leave the rest to wither. The Labour Government has decided to target extra money for the most needy pensioners (like my grandmother) through its system of tax credits. IDS wants instead to throw money at the rich, middle class and poor equally. The obvious effect of this is that the poor will get far less hard cash. Oliver Letwin, the shadow Home Secretary, has even admitted that, in order to fund this commitment, the Tories will have to slash spending on public services - the very services on which poor pensioners depend. So much for IDS's supposed compassion for our elderly war heroes.

As for the NHS, IDS thinks it is a great idea to dedicate £2bn to subsidising private health care for those rich enough to afford it. The new policies all continue in this pattern: cash for the middle class, sympathetic looks and windy rhetoric for the poor.

The most disturbing policies, however, were reiterated in yesterday's speech when IDS nakedly grasped the mantle of Enoch Powell. Norman Tebbit once said, when introducing IDS, "If you think I'm right wing, wait until you meet this guy." He was vindicated yesterday. "While Tony Blair is travelling the world," IDS snarled to a delighted Tory faithful, "the world is travelling here". In his early years as an MP, IDS asked questions in parliament about repatriating immigrants. Now, his party promises to send asylum-seekers to an island "far, far away" (destination yet to be decided). He is speaking, in part, about people who are fleeing torture; but it gets him some good headlines, so what does he care?

The policies on Europe are just as oven-hot. He wants to hold a referendum on the European Constitution and call for a "no" vote. This means that, if he gets his way, we would have to bring the European Union to a halt and - if the other 15 countries did not capitulate - we would have to withdraw altogether. John Major once called the new leader and his anti-European chums "the Broadmoor wing" of the party. It's not hard to see why.

IDS has an eccentric habit of predicting the end of "a thousand years of British history" every few years - Maastricht, devolution, and now the Satanic European Constitution - like a member of a Doomsday cult that decides every New Year's Eve that the Apocalypse will surely happen next year.

This silly rhetoric reveals, however, a more frightening truth. In a European context, these comments place IDS closer to the likes of Jean-Marie Le Pen and Alessandra Mussolini than to centre-right Europeans like Jacques Chirac.

The real issue today is not whether IDS has a croaky voice or a charisma chasm. It is that one of our main political parties has adopted a load of poor-bashing, asylum-hating doggerel, and the reaction of many people is to brand these as "good new policies".

j.hari@independent.co.uk

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