The following article is written by Paul Kavangh for The National Scot. Some small edits have been made.
POLITICS is, allegedly, the art of the possible. However, if you look to the oeuvre of such high profile practitioners of the political arts as Iain Duncan Smith or John McTernan, you soon realise that politics isn’t the art of the possible at all. It’s the art of making things up as you go along. It’s the art of self-justification. It’s the art of outright lying. Although to be fair, it’s wrong to accuse John of outright lying, because before you can lie you must be in touch with some sort of semblance of reality to begin with.
The Department of Work and Pensions is presided over by Iain Duncan Smith who once claimed that he’d studied at the prestigious University of Perugia. In fact, Iain went there on a weekend break, had a nice plate of lying linguine in a sauce of barefaced cheek and went back home to the expensive house his wife’s millionaire family bought. It’s very easy not to have to face the consequences of your actions when you have an extremely wealthy family which will insulate you from your screw-ups. And Iain’s career in politics has been one lying screw up after another.
Back in 2013, the UK Statistics Authority issued a statement condemning Iain’s department for its abuse of statistics after he claimed that 8000 claimants affected by the benefits cap had moved into work. The very statistics Iain’s department had collected showed no such thing. Enraging an accountant takes a special kind of annoying. Iain did the same with his claims of success for the work programme, which was supposed to provide training for the long term unemployed. Iain just makes things up, and by the time the correction makes it way into a small paragraph in the inside pages of a Tory newspaper, his lie has already been plastered all over the front of the Daily Mail as an example of the successes of vicious right wingery. Of course, the only thing that Iain is successful at is telling porkie pies.
Iain’s relationship to truth and veracity is at best tangential, so when faced with mounting criticism of the inhumane regime of capriciously applied benefits sanctions which take from the mouths of the very poorest, Iain was in desperate need of some sanctioned claimants who would say that their sanctions had been a positive experience. Not for any particular reason of improved public image mind, the entire country already thinks he’s a bastard. It was because in keeping with Iain’s benefits regime, cabinet ministers have to produce a certain number of positive media reports, or George Osborne will sanction them. George knows all about painful and humiliating sanctions.
Unsurprisingly, he couldn’t find any people who’ve been starved who think it’s a positive thing, although perhaps if he’d looked amongst people following Michelle the Moan’s diet plan he might have had some success. He’d have had even more success if he’d trawled some of the more recherché nightclubs, because there at least he’d encounter some masochists who really do enjoy being kicked in the nads, reduced to powerless objects who have to beg, and stripped of their human dignity. Rumour has it there are quite a few of them who are Tory MPs.
Confronted with an absolute absence of any real-life positive outcomes from the Department of Work and Pensions sanctions regime, the DWP just took a leaf out of its boss’s book of lies, and made some up. Jennifer was sanctioned by the DWP and it relieved her of the burden of choosing food for her children’s tea, now she saves a fortune by just feeding them what she can find in the bins at the back of Lidl. James was found fit for work after dying of cancer, and now he runs a successful waste consultancy business in Kidderminster with Derek Acorah. Richard was sanctioned for being late for an appointment after his bus was caught in traffic, now he’s learned that money is a symbol of materialism and is a more spiritual person who fasts for weeks at a stretch.
But in one important respect, the invented sanctions stories are absolutely spot on. Just like the real sanctions, they have no grounding whatsoever in any objective reality. Caught out in its lie, the DWP hastily claimed that the stories were merely for illustrative purposes. This is obviously a different interpretation of “illustrative” from that used by the rest of us.
In the DWP “illustrative” clearly means fictitious self-justifying bull. If they’d caught claimants doing the same thing in their CVs the DWP would have sanctioned them more quickly than Iain Duncan Smith could say Perugia University. Because there’s a technical term for what the DWP did, and it’s “lying through your lying teeth”. Otherwise a claimant could write a CV full of what an employer would have said about how good they were at the job they never got and if the employer had liked them. But surely it must be OK if it was only for illustrative purposes. Iain does it, and no one sanctions him.
THERE was a time, aeons ago, that a government minister whose department was caught out telling bare faced lies would have had to resign for it. They’d have been slapped down and forced to make a grovelling apology to the House of Commons. That’s why cabinet ministers are paid so much more, because they are supposed to be responsible and the buck stops with them. They’re supposed to be accountable. But Iain won’t receive any sanctions for an action that would have resulted in a benefits claimant being sanctioned. It’s only the poor and the weak who have to suffer the consequences, not the rich and the powerful. That’s the real lesson of Iain’s sanction regime. We are governed by an unaccountable class which doesn’t need to bother with trivialities like truth, or even basic human decency. Iain’s department is also the department which insists that a raped woman prove that her child is a result of rape or she’ll get her benefits capped. And these are the people whose job is to ensure a basic standard of living for all citizens.