The most remarkable item to pop up in the news feeds this week was in a regional paper, the Gloucestershire Echo. It's the key to understanding the mind of Iain Duncan Smith and the battle which his opponents face. I urge you to read it before going any further.
Okay? You're surely bemused now. Can this be what he really believes? Let's take it a few sentences at a time. He was asked if he accepted blame for the fact that the use of food banks has quadrupled in Cheltenham, according to the Trussell Trust. IDS replied that he is "very much in support of people helping other people. I don't even think there is a blame here." So it's just a matter of mutual support, and not something anyone, least of all IDS, is at fault for. Now we get the waffle:
"The reality is that first of all people who get involved with food banks, set them up, are doing what they feel is very community spirited and want to help out people who they think have got a particular issue or problem."
This is pretty meaningless, but implies that the Trussell Trust is doing what it wants to do, and so what? Nothing to do with me.
"The reality is [that silly phrase again, which asserts rather than argues] that usage of food banks has been rising anyway and it was rising even during the time of growth under the last Government, continuing to rise over this, most of the period you are talking about anyway is pre-the impact of welfare reforms, most of them didn't come in until the early or middle part of last year."
Food banks started in a small way under the Labour government, but their numbers have soared since 2010. That hasn't stopped the Tories making thoroughly dishonest statements. And what is IDS arguing here? That the growth is not down to "welfare reforms"? So what is the reason? He leaves that one hanging.
"I think it is a positive thing for people to use food banks and I think if they need it, local authorities sometimes refer to food banks now because they run the social funds and instead of actually just paying money out some of them refer across."
The first part of that is just grotesque. Then he gets on to blaming local authorities. They "run the social funds" so they save money by sending people to the food banks rather than giving them cash. No mention, you notice, of jobcentres doing the same thing, or of his refusal to publish, or even collect, any data on this.
"There are complex reasons why people use food banks but I think it's excellent."
Dismissive, contemptuous and stupid just about sums up that sentence. But he hasn't finished:
"We should put this in context. In the UK the Trussell Trust has put some figures out that say about 60,000 people use them a week but in Germany, which has a more comprehensive welfare system, one and a half million people a week use them and in Canada which has a smaller population about 800,000 a week use them."
Notice the phrase "has put some figures out". It drips with contempt for the Trust's propaganda, and then implies that the figures are tiny anyway in comparison with other countries. I have no idea whether his figures for Germany and Canada are correct or whether direct comparisons are possible, but it's irrelevant to the argument.
The interviewer must have felt that it was like punching blancmange. There is no sense at all that Duncan Smith understands what's going on or why. He literally doesn't want to know. He has a completely fixed idea of his mission, and filters out any inconvenient fact which doesn't fit.
Mr Duncan Smith is appearing before the Work & Pensions Select Committee on Monday to answer questions about Universal Credit. Not the PAC, as I thought, which means he won't get the sort of grilling he would have got from Margaret Hodge. It's at 4.30, I believe. Let's hope it's televised.