Iain Duncan Smith's conference speech: same old song, same bum notes

Wed, 07/10/2015 - 16:12 -- nick

The Conservative Party conference reached its own squeezed middle yesterday, as Iain Duncan Smith was hidden away in the Tuesday graveyard shift with his unfounded boasts of 'compassion' and 'tolerance'.

Seasoned Smith-watchers won't be surprised to hear that his speech was littered with half-truths, untruths, mistakes and long-discredited theories, as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions entered his sixth year in the job he should never have been given.

It started poorly - he knows the shadow chancellor is a Marxist but doesn't know his name, calling him 'John McDonald' - and only got worse.

He lauded the Tory victory in May with a strange review: 'Not for us the electoral easy road of unfunded promises' he said, despite the endless flak his party received for promising £8 billion in benefit cuts but refusing to name them.

We know all about them now, and the fact that they have hit working families worst of all through tax credit cuts despite promises to protect them.

Smith has forgotten this already, and threw a wall of gobbledegook at the hall as he tried to explain why these cuts were right:

'We need to make sure that work pays better than welfare ... but not as Labour tried to do with big taxpayer er subsidence all over the place with extra help through wages,' he garbled. Try to make sense of that sentence, let alone the policy.

In fact, if you know anything of the realities of welfare in the UK try making sense of anything he said. He is still citing old arguments for the benefit cap, saying 'people should not earn more than those who are not on benefits who are in work, and as a result of the benefit cap ... households are more likely now to move into work'.

Both of these arguments have been so thoroughly discredited that hearing Smith cite them is like hearing a member of the flat earth society in 2015. The £26,000 cap was pegged to average earnings, so how is he using the same logic still to sell a £20,000 cap? Why aren't the benefits of those in work taken into account in the calculation? Even more bizarre is telling the Tory faithful that the benefit cap makes entering work more likely after he was pulled up by the Office for National Statistics for pretending the same thing years ago. There is no proof for this assertion, and when he was challenged he could only fall back on his 'belief' that it did.

This personal faith ran through the speech, and he knew who to blame for his reappointment to a job even George Osborne knows is beyond his abilities: 'Thank God I'm back as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in a Conservative government'.

The size of the benefit bill was used again to demonstrate how out-of-control spending became under Labour; Smith shouted that when the coalition came to power Labour had left it the legacy of a £203 billion benefit bill. IDS boasted that the Tories have improved things, but mysteriously failed to mention the benefit bill has actually gone up even as unemployment has naturally gone down since the recession abated.

He boasted of abolishing Labour's relative poverty measure, claiming that paying people more money in tax credits doesn't deal with the root cause of poverty but failing to provide an alternative beyond stopping measuring and replacing this with largely-irrelevant information on education and addiction.

'It's not about who to blame, it's about what to blame', he said, and his answer came back the same for both: Labour. As others had reached out under the 'One Nation' Tory banner Smith struck a bum note, alienating the centrists Osborne had sought to bring into the Tory tent.

Some of his assertions sounded a bit eighties, including his fact that among rich countries 'We inherited the fifth-worst picture of family stability in the world' in 2010. He failed to explain how cutting tax credits and child benefit will help those already-struggling to stay together, preferring to trumpet the idea that 'everything we do will strengthen families'.

He made no apology for punching the air during the Chancellor's emergency budget in July; he was revved up by the introduction of a national living wage, pretending that this is the same as a real living wage even though it includes no commitment to a calculation of the actual cost of living.

IDS has seen plenty of communities struggling without work but still says nothing about the dirty business of job creation, or even protecting industries in areas of high unemployment. When the Redcar steel plant threatened closure a few weeks ago plenty called for the government to step in to protect the 1,700 jobs that were threatened, but they refused, citing market forces and the price of steel, and the jobs have now gone for good. But when Lloyds, Northern Rock and RBS fell into trouble they were not allowed to go to the wall, despite having failed in pure market terms.

He is moved by his 'love' of the British people, but not the 'vile' mob outside. He believes the British are characterised by 'tolerance' and 'fairness', but cannot see how intolerant of the poor he is and how unfair and inconsistent his policies are.

Smith was received without much enthusiasm by the assembled Tory members, some perhaps making the calculation that an Osborne-led party in the near future would see him return quickly to the backbenches. This is a nice idea, but it comes to something when the hopes of the poor lie at the door of the current Chancellor.