Reposted from the Guardian
Labour wishes the quiet man would go quietly. The Tories wish the quiet man would go quietly. But the quiet man of politics, Iain Duncan Smith, secretary of state for work and pensions, insists on going out like a noisy Captain Mainwaring. The government watchdog, the Major Projects Authority, has already declared his universal credit programme to be such an abject failure after three years that its implementation must now be deemed an entirely new project. The only person seemingly unaware of just how disastrous his flagship welfare benefits reforms have been is IDS himself.
At questions on Monday ,the right honourable member for Walmington-on-Sea was at his sparkling, delusional best. “There are now 5,610 people enrolled on universal credit,” Rachel Reeves, the shadow minister, remarked. “At the current rate of progress, it will be another 1,052 years before he reaches his target of 7.8 million.” This 1,000-year delay was deeply offensive to the bank manager who at the weekend had been single-handedly defending Britain against Jerry. “Juncker overhead at eight o’clock. What do you mean he’s not an aircraft? Or German?”
“The project is on schedule,” he declared. Twice. In case everyone hadn’t got the message the first time. How did he know it was on time? Because he had changed the timing of the universal credit rollout. The original rollout had been far too like many of those when the Labour party had been in power. That’s right. He, Captain Mainwaring, alone, had spotted that his own programme had been infiltrated by Nazi sympathisers and had the foresight to change course. What people hadn’t realised was that his revised universal credit programme was running on British summer time and not central European time.
Even Jacob Rees-Mogg, the poshest man in the Commons and usually a willing Sergeant Wilson, who had been lying languidly on the backbenches with his feet in the air, reflecting on how tricky it was to get your shoes cleaned now that the government’s long-term economic plan had got so many people back into work, looked askance at this. IDS pressed on in a similar fashion. “No one will be punished or penalised,” he insisted, in a tone of voice to strike fear into the innocent.
Apart from the occasional shout of “wrong, wrong”, the Labour benches allowed Duncan Smith the freedom of his own mania. Principally because they know he is too far gone to be helped now, but also because they suspect he will soon be badly in need of sickness benefit himself and will have to wait 1,000 years to get it.
The one person everyone from both parties felt most sorry for was Mike Penning, Duncan Smith’s minister for disabled people. Penning has the aura of a fundamentally decent man, though that’s something one often has to take on trust as he battles with the English language to make his spoken words almost unintelligible. One suspects he has similar battles with his own boss. Not least when he is forced to explain delays in sickness payments to terminally ill patients in a statement that amounted to the fault lying with terminally ill people living too long, rather than with the department. Benefits cheats. That’s what people who refused to die quickly were. Penning sat down, his words still swooshing between his teeth, and gave IDS a look that indicated someone rather closer to home may have overstayed his welcome.