Tag Archives: Iain Duncan-Smith

Closet or Cabinet?

Dr Liam Fox and now Oliver Letwin have given David Cameron the sort of distractions which he does not really need. There has been speculation about each man’s political future and the doom-mongers reckon that “it’s all unravelling”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A few years ago, I  had a meeting at Conservative Central Office (when the Party could still afford Smith Square) with Lord Freeman who, at the time, was in charge of Candidates. We discussed the possibility of me testing prospective members of Parliament so that the Party did not have to rely on patronage and the  depressingly amateurish local interviews which continue to be a feature of candidate selection.

Had we gone ahead  with the plans, the present Cabinet would have contained some candidates who would have been pre-vetted by me. In the event, it was decided not to go ahead with something which may have caused certain future Ministers embarrassment.  Mind you, this parliament has produced those who are managing maximum embarrassment without any external help.

However, in the main, DC has assembled a surprisingly able bunch of characters.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – David Cameron is a good, solid Prime Minister and, given the time, he could become a great one. There is just one thing holding him back – the lack of depth in his “one-downers”. The Cabinet.

Here’s the list:

Nick Clegg, William Hague, George Osborne, Ken Clarke, Theresa May, Liam Fox, Vince Cable, Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Huhne, Andrew Lansley, Michael Gove, Eric Pickles, Philip Hammond, Caroline Spelman, Andrew Mitchell, Owen Patterson, Michael Moore, Cheryl Gillan, Jeremy Hunt, Danny Alexander, Lord Strathclyde, Baroness Warsi, Francis Maude, Oliver Letwin, David Willets, Sir George Young, Patrick McLoughlin, Dominic Grieve.

No problems at all with the first five:

Nick Clegg has the most difficult job, both as a politician and nanny to his confused Liberals who, in spite of (mostly) enjoying  the aphrodisiac nature of power, are still a bit uncertain as to whether they are really participating or merely ballast. His sometimes diffident manner disguises a will of steel.

William Hague has grown into his job, in spite of the shaky start with Libya. He has credibility abroad which is probably one of the most important attributes of any Foreign Secretary.

George Osborne, unsurprisingly has been the recipient of more “stick” than any other politician but , love him or hate him, he has shown courage and tenacity and sometimes, downright stubbornness. Whether those attributes are born of economic understanding or just downright bloody-mindedness, remains to be seen. What is in his favour is that, unlike many others – he takes decisions and stands by them.

Ken Clarke has made the legal system accessible. I know that sounds a bit fanciful but in spite of his occasional too-straight talking , he is a great antidote to a legal system which makes bankers and their bonuses look like paupers. Currently, both the economy and David Cameron need a Lord Chancellor who at least “appears” non-elitist because sooner or later, we are going to scrutinise the multi-billion pound cash machine that is THE LAW.

Theresa May is annoying. However, she is good at her job and so far, does not appear to have put a a faux leopard skin kitten-heel-clad foot wrong. She too is not afraid to take unpopular decisions. Her handling of both the News International scandal and the inner city rioting was impeccable.

I would also add Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove to the A-team. IDS has proved that there is life after political death and has been delivering spectacular results with his pensions initiatives. He is both a great theorist as well as having a rare quality among politicians – he is a “doer”.

Michael Gove has been quietly ploughing the Education furrow  and shaking-up an over-bureaucratic education system and has not been afraid to take some very unpopular decisions. He too is a “doer”. His thinking on education harks back to the 60s when children were educated and not used as test and statistics fodder. 10/10

Philip Hammond at Transport also belongs in the A-team and is without doubt a star of the future. He is lucky though to have both Norman Baker and Mike Penning as Parliamernary Under Secretaries.  Norman the Idealist and Mike the “no shit”  British Bulldog. Philip Hammond is seen on TV as a government spokesman much more than you might expect from a Secretary for Transport.

Dr Liam Fox has been delivering what, on the surface has been a solid job – if not a bit over-influenced by the balance sheet. He has always looked like the Conservatives’ “nearly man”. Soon, he may be the “never really was” man – as his political career begins to unravel. He, in common with all politicians should remember that Perception is King. The current perception of him is now tending towards  the seedy.

Vince Cable was always going to be a problem and continues to be a bit of a thorn. He is a natural backroom boy and looks terribly uncomfortable in the back of a Ministerial limo. However, by far his biggest handicap is the fact that he is having increasing difficulty in disguising his Socialist views. He seems to be in permanent pain. Very soon, his political career will  describe the downward arc of the parabola. He is the Statler and Waldorf of the Cabinet and compared to some of the other youngsters is from the wrong generation. His obssession with the bankers is hurting his credibility because he has not managed to do anything about them and never will.

Chris Huhne is even more annoying than Theresa May (!) but his personal life and the alleged driving licence naughtiness has totally blown his credibility. He is lucky that he is a Liberal – otherwise he may have already participated in an exit interview with DC.

Andrew Lansley is running the NHS in the way that you would expect from a career Civil Servant. He is doubtless very able – as a Civil Servant – but the NHS currently needs a large dose of commercial thinking. Everything that he has put forward so far has been through the wringer. Wrong man in the wrong job.

Eric Pickles is a great man in every sense.  He provides the Cabinet with some Northern credibility. From a Labour family, this ex-Communist has travelled the entire political spectrum and is one of the shrewdest operators in Government. He is one of the few in Cabinet who is 100% suited to his brief with the advantage of being a working-class Conservative.

One Cabinet member who one could have been forgiven for thinking would, by now be running one of the great Departments of State is Francis Maude. He is a rock-solid operator and should, without doubt be on the real A-team. As Minister at the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General , he has been handed a temporary consolation prize. He has not peaked yet. As a former Managing Director of Morgan Stanley, he knows things.  Street-wise.

Oliver Letwin is Minister of State at the Cabinet office is DC’s Policy Adviser. Like many intellectuals, he appears to be constantly stressed and “away with the fairies”.  He is the archetypal analytical-amiable who cannot manage himself – or others – and has been given the “Special Projects” brief. He is currently the recipient of a press-roasting but, like a good luck charm, will always be retained in some capacity. It is a pity that other Cabinet members cannot spot “burn-out” when they see it.

David Willets, like Letwin is a white-hot intellectual who is good to have around. He is articulate and fiercely bright.  He would have done much better , had he not looked like a spud. His great disadvantage is a lack of any “street-cred” because he has always been a political “wonk”. Having said all that, he is the ideal person to be looking after Universities and Science with the advantage of being so clever that there isn’t a single other member anywhere NEAR as suitable for this job.

Danny Alexander is another (young) career politician and his appointment has always smacked of tokenism with the added suspicion that David Laws is hanging about whilst DC waits for a respectable passage of time before he invites him back.

Sir George Young SHOULD have been Speaker of the House and his present post as Leader of the House is his consolation prize.  He is marking time because he will probably be the next Speaker. In spite of a comparatively undistinguished Parliamentary career so far, he gives the Cabinet gravitas.

Next we have the Cabinet  “solid citizens”.  All are capable but not stars: Caroline Spelman, Andrew Mitchell, Owen Patterson, Michael Moore, Cheryl Gillan, Jeremy Hunt, Patrick McLoughlin and Dominic Grieve are all OK but will never set the world on fire.

Finally we have the youthful, Lord Strathclyde, or should I say Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, 2nd Baron Strathclyde. As Leader in the Lords, he is a very safe pair of hands and is a Conservative straight from Tory Central Casting. A great asset to the Cabinet.

Baroness Warsi is Chairman of the Conservative Party and although a competent TV performer, she always sounds as if she’s reading from a Tory pamphlet. She is very likely to be reshuffled out soon. Bearing in mind that Perception is King, her appointment smacked of tokenism.

So, you see that , in spite of the elitist-millionaire tags, the Cabinet is largely populated by a very cabable and  solid bunch of operators –  although the real depth of talent within the Coalition parties is still a bit of a mystery – even, one suspects, to David Cameron himself.

This Cabinet has a good mix of experience, intellect and toughness.

Whether or not you share their views or politics – they are (by far) the ones who have the very best chance of extricating us from where we have landed.

New New Deal?

Work Activity Scheme supervisor 

There have been not-so-muted rumblings about the government’s scheme which will force individuals to work if they wish to retain their social benefits. The new Work Activity Scheme is being hailed by the Conservative government as yet another one of the Work and Pension Secretary’s genius initiatives.

The Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith is not new to creating jobs for the unemployed. When his wife was unemployed, he found her a job in his own office. Her salary was was paid-for by the taxpayer. Here’s a quote from IDS when BBC’s Newsnight programme and  Michael Crick dared to suggest impropriety: “If anybody makes such allegations, I will sue them. I have a whole legal team who have been looking at this and I can tell you absolutely that they will find themselves with a lawsuit.”  See here.

The Work Activity scheme will soon be formalised by IDS and will most likely consist of four-week placements for the unemployed as well as benefit-cheating malingerers. Unfortunately, government information is not sensitive enough to distinguish between the genuinely, reluctantly  unemployed and the pathologically lazy. Consequently, both the workless and the workshy will receive the same designation and the same treatment.

The scheme has been designed to “flush out” those claimants who have opted for a life on benefits. It is not yet 100% clear how much the government is hoping to save by identifying the workshy but to put it in some kind of perspective, the cost to the taxpayer of fraudulent benefits claims is about £1 billion per year. Compare that with the cost of bailing put the banks at about £850 billion.

The type of work that is proposed will be exactly the work which is currently meted-out to petty criminals who have been sentenced to Community Service – painting railings, picking-up litter and gardening on roundabouts.

There is no doubt that in spite of  all of the government’s attempts to “tart up” the scheme, it will always retain that punitive mien.

Here’s a quote from IDS:   “One thing we can do is pull people in to do one or two weeks’ manual work – turn up at 9am and leave at 5pm, to give people a sense of work, but also when we think they’re doing other work.”

The only thing that the above sentence shows is Duncan-Smith’s total lack of understanding of the mind-set of an individual who may possibly have been banging his head against a brick wall for years in a vain attempt to secure a job. Picking up litter is the last thing that he or she needs in order to reaffirm themselves as a useful member of society. Manual labour  is not a cure for the feelings of humiliation and uselessness which the vast majority of the unemployed feel. Try sending an out-of-work lawyer, architect or computer programmer to pick up other people’s rubbish at £2.17 an hour and you may finally beat his ego into total submission and demolish any vestiges of self-worth.

£2.17 per hour? Yes, that’s  Jobseekers’ Allowance of £65, divided by 30, which is the number of hours that these people will be told to work. That’s assuming of course, that the government is not in contravention of Minimum Wage legislation or some dark corner of the Human Rights Act.

Remember that there are already people being paid (at least) the minimum wage to do this kind of work. Is there any danger of them being made redundant because a  government has given itself rights to “employ”  people on the sort of income that makes as “sweat-shop” wage look attractive?

What the government REALLY needs to do is to create an environment in which it can offer proper jobs and not continue Labour’s method of papering-over  the cracks (apologies to Osborne & Little)  of a lame economy with the primary purpose of keeping unemployment figures at a level which is tolerated by the electorate.

Twelve years ago Labour introduced the New Deal which twelve months ago, was re-branded as the Flexible New Deal. This was a fully-funded scheme which was paid-for by a £5 billion windfall tax levied on the privatised utility companies. The scheme provided subsidised employment, training and voluntary work for the unemployed.

In essence, Labour’s  New Deal was the same scheme as this government is contemplating but with a touch of  self-respect thrown in.

The Labour government also had the ability to withdraw benefits from those who refused “reasonable employment” but did not attempt to humiliate them by  focussing solely  on low-level manual work. Proper companies were offered subsidies to employ people in proper jobs.

Eleven years ago, the Working Families Tax Credit was introduced. This tax credit scheme was designed for the lower-paid as an incentive to work  and to continue to work because the scheme was designed to ensure that a family’s net income would be in excess of benefit payments.

Billions were allocated and spent on these schemes but sadly, they do not seem to have had any effect on either unemployment  or fraudulent benefits claims.

There were New Deal schemes  for a number of groups – from the Disabled to the Over 50s. In comparison, the new IDS scheme seems a very blunt instrument which, based on the previous government’s experience, has little or no chance of having any measurable effect.

The government should state clearly whether or not all of these (Labour) schemes have been ditched and whether the Work and Pensions Secretary’s “Work Activity Scheme”  is an added scheme or merely a replacement.

A replacement tagged with the twin components of Coalition brutality and humiliation.

The Speech 2008

Gordon preparing for his speech.

A lot of amateur analysis will clog tomorrow’s newspapers, so I’ll keep it short.

Gordon Brown’s 2008 conference speech was not good.  It did have the effect of a temporary reprieve but Brown is still hoping that someone will manage to get at the jury before they deliver their final verdict. The decision will arrive sometime after the next by-election. That’s about one month away.

David Miliband looked far too smug, Starling smiled and what the hell was simpering Fiona off the telly doing there? Baroness Phillips of GMTV? John Prescott and Harriet Harman  both swayed as if they had enjoyed lunch. Harriet resembled a deputy head girl after one-too-many Crofts. Ed Miliband had obviously agreed to drive and Kinnock  had morphed into his Spitting Image puppet. Ed Balls stood as if he (or something) was about to explode and Yvette was  a pixie-puppet with one broken string.

It certainly looked as if the Pomerol ’76 and the ’96 Bolly had received some attention.

Some commentators have said that Brown did not say much about the economy. That was the best decision that he made. Currently, the markets are so sensitive that a wrong word or nuance could have sent the FTSE 100 due south. Congratulations to him for being prudent. (!)

So here goes:

DELIVERY 4/10. The voice is  good  and with a bit of work, he could learn proper modulation. He is a shy boy who is afraid of overdoing the metaphors, consequently he does not use them. Occasionally he sounded as if he was reading a Saga advert.

CONTENT 5/10. Mostly recycled stuff. Mentioned the eye and admit it – you were waiting for the school motto. Thankfully, he left it out. It was a Budget speech which had been topped and tailed by the stitching-in of some NHS and anti-Tory stuff.

VISION 3/10. No great leader actually uses the “V”-word. This was a senior manager’s and not a leader’s speech.

BODY LANGUAGE 2/10.He only appeared to move his head between the two stereo autocues.

FACE 3/10. He is naturally expressionless and did not let us down . There were about four examples of the  “Jack the Ripper” smile.

HUMOUR 1/10. Not a natural comedian.

Let’s end on a high note:

He is as good as Iain Duncan-Smith.