Sunday, 20 March 2016

IDS: Reading the Lines

Look, I have a sociological background, and I don't just 'not forget it' but embrace it. And one of the dictums of sociological research is to listen and take people at face value before any analysis. It is a very important point: you can talk about motives but the expressed motive must be given its place. The more hidden motives may not be personal but institutional and systemic.

So I listened to Andrew Marr interviewing Iain Duncan Smith and also a bit of Faisal Islam. IDS is clear that his entire motive for action is around his particular interest put into this job.

He is on the side of the angels, although he leaves "morality" to "churchmen". He wants the Conservatives to have a method and means of social justice, to support the poor. But he has to make compromises. Against analyses like mine he says he has no motivation regarding his known Eurosceptic views.

What he does is gives us a view inside government, that since the coalition forced cabinet government, government now is - well Marr put it as "Ant and Dec" in charge. There is a chaos to policy formation because things get proposed and then withdrawn somewhat without best communication to the department with direct responsibility. Second, he wants to reform a system to help those who even would not vote Tory, to have the Tories as properly a one-nation party, whereas it comes under the Treasury cash-cow extraction approach, one that takes away the welfare to work incentive in IDS's proposals.

So I listen, and think well, maybe, just maybe, I have been too sophisticated in my political analysis. He really is approaching this from his narrow oh-so-inclusive view.

And then I have problems, and not just with his "compromises" and collective cabinet responsibility. For example, how does he justify the Bedroom Tax, which penalises the poorest on a failed analysis of forcing people into non-existent one-bedroomed properties? How does he justify the sanctions targets, by which DWP "Work Coaches" (but no work, no coaching) had to select out people who failed to turn up on time for an interview or didn't make the arbitrary demands for job seeking numbers? How does he justify the Universal Jobshite website that turns agency adverts into repetition (now even the same agency on the same day, never mind different agencies and one job, and repetition day after day) and therefore a deluge of pointless applications thrown away by agencies? Why did he argue for privatised overseeing of applications where people who would have got jobs anyway got preferential treatment and the difficult cases were 'parked'?

But, more than this, the DWP having to face cuts to its projects is no different from the Home Office facing cuts to the police forces, so that they have been rendered more and more ineffective.

So, devoid of sophistication, the other charge is naivity. He has proven that the Conservative Party and its chosen agenda of cuts is no vehicle for the necessities of social justice. The shell cannot contain that egg. Even under Liberal Democrat vetoes to the elitist agenda, the actions against the poorest were vicious.

And is he really that naive? Does he not realise that timed like this, the effect on the Chancellor is very damaging. He did refer to the Chancellor but his general praise for performance was for Cameron the Prime Minister. I think in his comments he 'overcame; his policy feud to include the Chancellor, probably realising that he had mentioned the PM exclusively rather too often.

It may well be that IDS has his project, as he sees it. But he is also a politician, even if not a very good one. He surely understands politics to the extent that it has another reality to it alongside simple policy mechanisms. There is support, and there is undermining. There is timing. Politics is an art as well as a process. And so I am back reading between the lines.

It is perfectly possible - I have done it myself - to argue purely on the issue at hand and yet know precisely the wider impact of the argument. Will it weaken that person and what they stand for, will it sink the ship, and does the ship sail in a direction that, therefore, one is in the wrong ship.

If he made arguments about supply side economics in the Labour market, this might make sense, but it is not the only sense. The fact is that this Tory party has long abandoned the inclusiveness of Heath and Walker and even (to a more limited extent, and another part-performer) Major. It is an elitist party with that agenda. I accuse Iain Duncan Smith of naivity, and also if he cannot see the European dimension of what he has done (the Eurosceptic nutjobs certainly can, and why they have called him 'principled' etc.) then he really is a crap politician.

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