As a wise Roman once said: beware the IDS of April.
After saying that he could live on £53 a week - the same amount that benefit claimants receive - Iain Duncan Smith has, unsurprisingly, failed to pick up the gauntlet that wasn't so much thrown down to him as shoved in his hand as he walked into a trap of his own making. If you'll excuse the mixing of metaphors.
The gauntlet, of course, came in the form of an online petition asking him to do exactly that - live on £53 a week, for a year - and at the time of writing it has over 315,000 signatures.
Duncan Smith has called the petition a "complete stunt", and once you've moved past your instinct to turn that into rhyming slang, I urge you to listen to the rest of what he had to say:
"This is a complete stunt which distracts attention from the welfare reforms which are much more important and which I have been working hard to get done", Duncan Smith told the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian. "I have been unemployed twice in my life so I have already done this. I know what it is like to live on the breadline."
Except that - guess what? A little digging shows that Mr Duncan Smith is being as economical with the truth about "living on the breadline" as he was about his education.
Here are the facts:
1. Iain Duncan Smith left the army (he was a lieutenant in the Scots Guards) in 1981, after which he did, indeed, sign on. But he started working for the defence contractor GEC-Marconi in the same year.
2. In 1982, he married Betsy Fremantle, daughter of the 5th Baron Cottesloe. Meaning his in-laws were now Lord and Lady Cottesloe - who own not just a £2m Tudor mansion in Buckinghamshire (which Iain and Betsy now live in, rent-free) but also pretty much all of Swanbourne village, including most of the houses in it, as well as its surrounding 2,500 acres.
3. IDS claimed unemployment benefit for a second time in 1988. He'd left his job at GEC-Marconi to become marketing director of the property firm Bellwinch - but was made redundant just six months later. According to the Daily Mail, he signed on for five months, and recalling this time, he once told an interviewer: "It was a shock - absolutely awful... I remember telling my wife. We looked at each other and she said: 'God, what are we going to do for money?'."
So, in conclusion: the first time our work and pensions secretary signed on, he didn't do so for very long, and he did so during a time when he was dating (or courting, as I imagine the upper classes did, especially back then) the daughter of a millionaire. And the second time he claimed benefits, he was married to said millionaire's daughter.
Now, I don't have anything against rich people. Some of my best friends are rich people, or at least I'd like them to be. What I do have something against is rich people thinking that their situation is remotely comparable to those of the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable in society. That we're somehow "all in this together". That Iain Duncan Smith - son of a military man, son-in-law of a Baron, and earner of an estimated £1m a year from public speaking - somehow knows what it's like to live on the breadline.
Because you don't, Mr Duncan Smith. You're the middle class girl Jarvis Cocker sings about in Pulp's Common People. You may complain and worry about your lot, and think your situation is comparable to others who are less fortunate, but it's not. Because - to paraphrase Jarvis - if you called, Betsy's father could have stopped it all.
You'll never live like common people, IDS. To act like you ever did is disingenuous at best, immoral at worst - and somewhere between the two, a complete stunt.
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