This incredible piece of prose was written for you by Scriptonite Daily reader Mike Cobley.
Iain Duncan Smith – A Hero Of Our Times
What’s on the menu? – disabled benefit claimants driven to suicide, families shattered by poverty, sanctioned claimants queuing at foodbanks, patients brought to death’s door by degraded or privatised NHS services, elderly citizens made bereft by cash-strapped councils, and the rest, the abandoned, the discarded and the rejected. Oh, what tasty dishes to set before the rich elites!
They are hungry, after all, the rich. It’s a tough concept to grasp, how one can accumulate such staggering levels of wealth and yet remain so achingly, so twitchily in need of more pots and wads of lucre. But the rich, you see, are hungry with a hunger that passeth all understanding and not at all burdened by the slightest shred or pang of doubt. Multi-billionaire Charles Koch once said, ‘I want my fair share – and that’s all of it.’
Such cravings will not be denied, and the financial domain swarms with heartless, dead-eyed ‘consultants’ yearning to be the instruments of rich masters. Every gilded age has had its goons and hatchet men and this one is no different. Which brings us neatly to the matter of Iain Duncan Smith.
Have British politics – at least since the 70s – been graced with any other hate figure as grand guignol as IDS has become? Thatcher’s gag-and-vomit crew inevitably come to mind (as do the magnificently grotesque puppets devised for Spitting Image – Norman Tebbit as Thatcher’s leather-clad, Stanley-knife-toting biker thug was grimly satisfying). Yet apart from the Old Handbagger herself, none of that gang quite gained the corrosively nasty reputation that now hangs over Iain Duncan Smith like an especially brutal heraldic device, something you might come across in Game of Thrones.
And it is entirely deserved. The rap sheet is long and crammed with the names of DWP victims, both living and dead. Since becoming Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, his journey has turned into a swathe of destruction carved through the lives of millions. Aided by his enthusiastically loyal mini-me, Esther McVey, IDS has turned the benefits system into a convoluted process dedicated to casting fear and despair into the hearts of the poor. At every stage, shreds of hope are extracted and taken away to be crushed into dust. After nearly 5 years of this, Smith’s face has proliferated across the internet in the UK, 100’s of distorted, leering, photoshopped parodies adorned with everything from twirly evil moustaches to red-glowing eyes. You could not ask for a more suitable symbol of the Tories’ detestation of the poor.
And therein lies a problem, because a symbol….is just a symbol. It’s a shorthand representation of a thing, not the thing itself. We who fulminate about politics have to sharpen our perceptions and see past the symbol, look beneath the Lord Dastardly panto villain exterior, because our role as writers and critics – the unacknowledged legislators of the future – demands that we confront IDS and other adversaries as they really are, flawed human beings attempting to impose what they see as order on what they see as disorder.
See, we writers, when we’re doing our job properly, keep in mind the importance of understanding how flawed human beings work. Take Iain Duncan Smith, for example – we all know what he and his department and all his minions have done to the poor for nearly five long years, and the backlash has been energetic and multifaceted. But very likely the truth is that (excluding the possibility of him actually being a clinical psychopath) he doesn’t sit in his office chortling over all the despair, misery and death that he’s caused, revelling in his grotesque decisions, glorying in his own wickedness while cackling like a maniac. That is not how the world looks to him – no, he’s the good guy, the hard-working, self-sacrificing yet misunderstood hero of his own story.
How could I suggest such a thing, you might say? But don’t forget that this is a man buffered from nasty, street-level truths by position, comfort, his official advisors and by the ever-present slick barrier of security. And there’s this – IDS’s heroic status does not depend solely upon the mighty, Herculean labours that tax him from dawn to dusk. Oh no, he’s got the rank and file of the Conservative party doing the whole Greek chorus thing, cheering him on, and even that’s not all. For above the Tory party sits the tapering echelons of the uber-wealthy for whom Iain Duncan Smith is their Thor, their General Paton, their Ajax, Ayn Rand and Chuck Norris all rolled into one!
The picture is incomplete, though. Every valiant champion needs enemies, wave after wave of unrelenting, single-minded adversaries willing to use every kind of deceit and fakery to sneak past the guardians and defences set up to protect the sacred treasures known as Benefits…. That’s us, by the way, the bulk of the population who at some point in our lives, for this or that reason, will have to rely on the state for aid in a time of need. A great many of us will be desperate, weakened by life’s pitfalls, and even at our most vulnerable. Some of us will be young and green, or older and wearily familiar with life’s hazards – and some of us will be disabled, physically or mentally, or even burdened with several disabilities. Once upon a time we had a benefits system which actually attempted to help people survive the worst that life could throw at them; it was bureaucratic, clunky and sometimes made mistakes, but it was designed to help, to shield us from avoidable suffering, and over the decades since its founding it grew and adapted, was modified, and in general kept the nation’s most disadvantaged from outright starvation and homelessness.
And that’s why it had to go. Our moral sense of who we are and what we really stand for depends on how we as a society treat the weakest and most vulnerable among us. That we are, at our core, a good, compassionate people is the story that since 1945 we have told to ourselves about ourselves. But the Tories and their hungry donors have a different story to tell, a story that serves only the barren ends of the elites.
It’s been said that if you want to poison a nation, poison its stories, which is why so much time and effort and resources have been ploughed into the re-modelling of the benefits system, its re-tasking to become a machine for poisoning the stories we tell about ourselves. The system no longer tries to help, instead hindering and obstructing; jobcentre staff are prompted to stress and inconvenience claimants and a variety of gambits and obstacle courses (like daily signing) are now deployed against the enemy to increase the chances of errors and blunders. Any mistakes, even the tiniest slip, can be used as an excuse to cut off a claimant’s money, all of it, in one fell stroke.
So, whether a claimant is thrown overboard, or drafted into forced-labour Workfare, it still counts as a win. Money is being saved, worthless eaters are being either punished or made to create value for the uber-plutocrats, and the readership of the Daily Mailexpressograph gets a visceral thrill from knowing that the poors are getting kicked on their behalf.
This is the Age of the Plutonomy, and Iain Duncan Smith is a baldy-headed attack dog gussied up as the Ubercrats Pied-Piper Paladin Hero. The web of interlocking elites, and their world-entrancing megaphone media, enjoy a degree of opulence and unrestrained power that the emperors of ancient times could only have dreamed of. But before we become intimidated and demoralised, let us just remember how profoundly disconnected from reality the gold-plated richies are, how ignorant they are of how the world really works, and how monumentally douchebaggy they are.
I mean, they see Iain Duncan Smith as some kind of hero figure, for crying out loud!
That alone gives me hope.