Perhaps you watched the interview with Iain Duncan Smith today on The Sunday Politics. It was much as we have come to expect, although Andrew Neil did try, for once. But from the moment IDS opened his mouth he lied. Neil tried to nail him on Universal Credit. There's no need to go over the true history of that epic failure. IDS has rewritten history, as he always does. He is the hero who spotted what was going wrong and got it all sorted out, and now it's all going swimmingly. Neil confronted him with graphics to show that a normal, low-paid family in his own constituency would be worse off. But it's pointless confronting Smith with figures; they don't register with him. Today he was shown a graph and maintained completely different figures. Whenever Neil tried to move on to a different point, Smith said, "Hang on," and reiterated the falsehood he was insisting on. There was one whopping, blatant lie which stood out. "The Treasury hasn't signed off Universal Credit," said Neil. "Yes it has," said IDS, and nothing could move him. Neil hates this, so after the interview he produced confirmation in the form of a direct quote from a Treasury official at the Public Accounts Committee recently.
The Feeding Britain report was brought up. The bulk of people needing food banks were suffering benefit delays and sanctions. No, "benefits were now being paid more quickly - from 88-89% being on time under Labour, to 96-97% now." I have no idea whether that's true, but since IDS said it I assume it isn't; certainly the delays are much, much longer now. And anyway, he said, food bank use "is tiny in proportion here compared to a place like Germany which has more generous benefits and in which you have a higher level of pay. So just saying it is to do with benefits is quite wrong. What I do say is there are lots of other reasons lots of people go to food banks." For Andrew Neil it must have felt like banging one's head against a brick wall.
There was nothing to provoke a headline until the end of the interview. He was shown clips of various ministers saying that the "welfare" budget would have to be cut still further. Where would those cuts fall? Would you limit child benefit to two children, asked Neil, echoing something the hard right has been pushing lately. IDS said he would certainly consider it.
We can rant and rage and heap abuse on this man. But try to take a step back and consider what's going on. Does Smith actually believe what he says? Or does he know that he's lying and not care? I suspect it's a bit more complicated. We have a toxic combination of fixed ideology and grandiose self-delusion. And it persists because his party loves it. Who else could they find to do their dirty work for them with such enthusiasm? Possibly Chris Grayling. But all the other Tories who would do the job with gusto are even more stupid than Smith (think McVey, or Philip Davies or Alec Shelbrooke). Those with ability tend to maintain a tiny morsel of compassion. So IDS sails on.