I'm not a Conservative voter. (In fact, I'm politically homeless at the moment.) I don't routinely read stuff on the Conservative Home site - too depressing. But one blog piece on there popped up in the alerts which is worth reading for the insight it gives into the Tory mindset when it comes to welfare. It's badly written and nobody has bothered to proofread it. But when you get past that, you see an attitude which is blind to reality. It takes as its starting point the ERSA figures published in a pre-emptive strike this week, and the writer, someone called Harry Phibbs, swallows them whole. The WP "has certainly made progress", he says. Well, we'll see. He insists that the programme is "good value for the taxpayer". "There is an incentive to innovate, to cater to the needs of the individual," he says, oblivious of the fact that this simply hasn't happened. But "even more important is reality [sic] that for those able to work sitting at home on benefits is ceasing to be an option". He misses the irony here; that the WP was supposed to solve this problem. No, "Those who don’t find jobs via the Work Programme will go through a Community Work Programme where they work 30 hours a week for 26 weeks to contribute to their community. For claimants refusing to participate, benefits will be withdrawn for three months for the first offence, six months for the second, and three years for the third." He is conflating a number of things here, but relishes the punishment to be dished out to these idle people. His proudest boast, however, and the one displaying the greatest ignorance, is that 150,000 people, and rising, disappeared from the unemployed figures rather than go on the WP. If this piece is a sign of Tory ideology triumphing over reality, the comments underneath it show that there are plenty of people know the truth.
But that doesn't include Fraser Nelson. He's the editor of the Spectator magazine and one of the BBC's favourite journalists. On Thursday he had an article in the Telegraph in which he tried, ridiculously, to show that the Tories are fighting for the "working classes" while Labour would abandon them. While Nelson is a better writer than Mr Phibbs, his conclusions on welfare are very similar. The WP seems to be working now. There's a curious statement that IDS has decided to "hire more private companies to help the long-term unemployed". That is news to me. Then the usual laxity with figures starts. "There are more in employment than ever before." Of course there are, the population is bigger than ever before. And of the 1.2 million referred to the WP, 321,000 have found work. That's the headline ERSA figure, as we know, which is likely to be thoroughly misleading. Nelson has examples of WP success stories - examples provided by A4e. An ex-railwayman from Glasgow who got nowhere with the Jobcentre but, "with proper help on job-hunting", is now fixing computers. And another man who, after 16 years out of work, is now a street-cleaner. Good for both of them. Any success is to be applauded. But what does that prove? Nelson says that these two stories "are the work of A4e, which was vilified when it said it had caught some of its employees fiddling the figures to hit targets". Well, there was rather more to it than that, Mr Nelson.
This, of course, is why the government allowed, or encouraged, the ERSA to put out the headline figures a week before the true statistics. The myths can take hold, and the media can get bored before the details are published. And it's these myths which permeate the consciousness of the government and its supporters.