When the history of this government is written, the point that will baffle everyone will be: Iain Duncan Smith. Why?
On New Year’s Day, it turned out that the Universal Credit system fails to get the right bank account 25% of the time.
In March, the project’s director was replaced again.
The fear was such that they scaled the pilot project down again, and again, until it launched as a real-life implementation of Yes, Minister‘s hospital with no patients.
The soaring ambition didn’t suffer, though, and he still wanted to spy on all the computers.
And, six months after the 25% failure rate, even Francis Maude can see it’s fucked.
Then there was the idea of making crisis loans a secret, the constant kickings from the courts, the payment by results system whose results are so awful that it saved £248 million in payments, and the huge flagship policy initiative that managed to place zero people in jobs in most of the areas it rolled out in. Seriously. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Jack shit.
And then, of course, there’s the whole, vast, third independent disaster of the bedroom tax. The evictions have begun, and here is a real doozy of a bureaucratic fiasco. I mean, you have no idea until you’ve seen this.
If you’re drawing Universal Credit, and you have to pay a service charge on your home – for example, if it’s an ex-local authority flat, quite a significant point – the Man from the Ministry has to decide which elements of it are “eligible” or “ineligible” service charges, and do a cost-allocation of the janitor’s time spent on each category of charges. Apparently, they are advised to ask the managing agent. Who can then turn around and bill you for it. But all is not lost, as you can include the agent’s fees in the cost of housing for UC purposes, but only in so far as they relate to eligible service charges.
Presumably, you then need to allocate the increase in the fees on the same basis, and the cost of this exercise can be re-billed in the same way, in literally ever-decreasing circles of fantasy accounting.
It gets better. Anything involving “the installation and maintenance of disability equipment and adaptions” is ineligible. I can only imagine that the DWP civil servants are hoping to trip him up now, as it’s blindingly obvious that someone will demand judicial review of this on grounds of discrimination. But aren’t public authorities required by law to ensure their buildings are accessible?
More to the point, isn’t this the most perfectly ridiculous bit of bureaucratic meddling you can imagine? The minister insists on having every caretaker in Britain’s timesheet, NOW.
Or he’ll thcream and thcream until he’s thick.
Mr Duncan Smith lost his temper when he heard a member of his team rowing on the phone with a Treasury official. He grabbed the receiver and shouted down the line: ‘If you ever speak to my officials like that again I’ll bite your balls off and send them to you in a box.’
And of course the policy is itself hideously idiotic; if we’re in a global race, forcing people to take the first daft no-wage placement offered is madness, and trying to mimic one monthly salary per family has all kinds of problems of its own, and the political lead seems to be providing cover for cops and others who want to substitute hating the poor for racism that is no longer acceptable.
But none of this should be at all surprising. Here’s a sample of IDS’s judgment from 1994.
The reforms ought to go wider still. We should learn from the success of the 15 million people who have opted out of the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme (SERPS) and abolish it altogether. The public has a greater choice and better service with private pension schemes, the State’s record is abysmal.
I think, in general, it’s the bullshit that’s the tell here; Alan Watkins wrote, years ago when IDS was the Tory leader, that it was a mistake to see him as a cipher, a man without qualities. Instead, Watkins wrote, he reminded him of people he saw in Fitzrovia pubs in the 1950s, typically ex-RAF officers who went into the motor or wine trades, always getting into unlikely scrapes and trying on bizarre money-making schemes, the best possible of which would be to marry a heiress. And of course he did. Terribly, the Indy‘s new website only has Watkins’ columns back to 2006.
The character Watkins was sketching was, of course, a prize bullshitter and chancer. Also, we have a word for exactly that character: a spiv.
He threw his hat in the ring for Tory leader because why not, in the same way as you might fill the Jensen with undeclared vintages and hope they sold like they tasted better than they looked to Customs, or get Virginia to take you ski-ing in St. Moritz so you could fill your old Erskine with watches for resale at the St. Moritz in Soho. He got it because all the other candidates had a substantial negative following of enemies. He decided he had a social conscience because, again, nobody else was doing it and why not? Unfortunately, if you want to have a social conscience in Britain you also need the bureaucratic gift, and we see the consequences.
But what service does he provide to the Tories? Why? Literally no other minister generates such a constant flow of terrible news. But he is allowed, alone among ministers, to tell the Treasury to bugger off, to threaten its officials, to refuse Downing Street staff access to the DWP officers. In British politics, Winston Churchill gets to tell the Chancellor to bugger off, just as Madonna gets copy approval and you aren’t, as my old editor once said.
Why on earth hasn’t he been offered a cheap ticket to Canada and a pat on the back yet, thinking of Watkins’s characterisation?
I think the explanation is this: IDS was the first of the few. He integrated the Tories, the first pure chancer who opened the way for the broader chancerisation of the party. The amazing variety of PowerPoint divas, OK-ish opinion journalists, cupcake peddlers, and general-purpose availability entrepreneurs who now rule us all emerged in Tory politics post-IDS, and they respect him as the chancer icon who blazed the trail.
Update: And I didn’t even mention the novel! IDS is the Great Crapsby, indeed.