The Sketch: Like a casual country gent – but he knows the language of the street

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The Independent Online

"There'll be business graduates working on checkout tills," one Labour member protested. If true, so what? It would take that over-educated gloss off them in a year or two and teach them business from the shop floor up. The Secretary of State didn't say that or anything like it. The casual, country gent that is Iain Duncan Smith has a better grasp of modern parlance than this street-level, petrol-sniffing sketch.

He's even sympathetic to those who "don't have the confidence" to work (I've found hunger overcomes shyness). And when David Winnick likened him to his Chingford predecessor in memory of his "on your bike" advice, there wasn't a ghost of a defence made of the previous polecat.

Whether or not it was the right advice, Poland took Norman Tebbit literally and cycled over here to find two million jobs that our English indigenes won't do.

IDS did fire up at one point to say he'd been unemployed himself and "quite frankly would have done anything to get a job". And when I glance back over my own employment history (rubbish shovelling, plastic injection moulding, vegetable canning, sketch writing) I find I'm on his side.

Peter Bone told us how people living on benefits kept ringing him up because they wanted a bigger house. I've heard that from a minister's surgery: "I've got two children and my partner has one but we want two ourselves so we need a five-bedroom house, what are you going to do to help?"

How did we get into this state? Yvette Cooper told the House some years ago that a couple with two children on the average income paid no net tax at all – it all came back in benefits. What an exercise in mutual debauchery it has become.

From Duncan Smith's figures, the better part of a million people will be withdrawing from incapacity benefit merely by being asked to turn up for an assessment test. And the system is so complex even the simplification is a cat's cradle of tapers, disregards and abatements.

There have been those who thought the ex-Tory leader was a bit low wattage, but he has put together a painfully detailed package which has a surprising range of support across the House. But it's early days. It's very likely that papers and programmes will be able to find 100,000 people to say helplessly: "I don't know what I'm going to do." But it may also be that the parade of victims having £20,000 a year of rent paid for them will harden the middle-class heart against them. Cuts cut both ways.