09/12/2013 03:24 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 16:01 GMT

Mehdi's Morning Memo: IDS, In Deep Shambles

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Iain Duncan Smith, U.K. work and pensions secretary, arrives to attend the weekly government cabinet meeting at number 10 Downing Street in London, U.K., on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Rising consumer confidence is good news for Prime Minister David Cameron at a time when his Conservative Party is trailing behind the opposition Labour Party in opinion polls less than two years before the next general election. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The five things you need to know on Monday 9 December...


In his own semi-shambolic response to the Autumn Statement last week, shadow chancellor Ed Balls taunted the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith: "No mention of Universal Credit in this statement. IDS - in deep shambles."

Shambles indeed. The Universal Credit's critics do seem to have been vindicated this morning. From the FT:

"Iain Duncan Smith will today write off tens of millions of pounds spent on IT in the frustrated rollout of his universal credit scheme.

"The write-off comes days after the work and pensions secretary admitted that about 700,000 people would not be moved to his new universal credit by the 2017 target.

"But the minister cast the write-off and the timetable slippage as relatively minor blips and said the project was on track to 'change the lives' of millions by ensuring that work always pays.

"In his first full interview since two public spending watchdogs delivered excoriating criticism of poor management of the welfare shake-up, Mr Duncan Smith said he 'made no excuses' and took 'complete responsibility ... from start to finish'."

He was much more defensive, however, on the Today programme. After accepting "of course that this plan is different from the original plan" he then claimed that he'd still be delivering UC on time and on budget.

Meanwhile, as the BBC reports:

"Problems surrounding the implementation of a central pillar of government changes to the welfare system are to be examined by MPs.

"Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith will be asked to explain why the new Universal Credit will not be paid to about 700,000 people until after a planned 2017 deadline.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee will also ask about IT system problems."

Nick Cohen, incidentally, had a stinging piece on IDS in yesterday's Observer: "The truth that he had wasted more money than an army of benefit fraudsters on a grandiose IT system had been dragged out of him like a confession from a hardened criminal," he wrote, adding: "The Conservative party did not consider Duncan Smith fit to be its leader in 2003, when it was in opposition and had no power. Why, then, does it give him the power to ruin their lives when it is in office in 2013?"



According to the front page of the Times, "Parliament's expenses watchdog is this week expected to announce the [11%] increase [in MPs' pay], to come into force after the next election, but Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, gave the strongest indication yet that the entire Cabinet intended to reject the extra money. This would heap pressure on MPs to follow suit by handing the rise, worth about £7,600 a year, to charity. Under the rules, the money cannot be returned to the public purse.

"The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), set up in 2009, was supposed to depoliticise the issue of MPs' remuneration, but has caused huge controversy by suggesting an increase from £66,396 to £74,000 when public sector workers have faced years of frozen wages and the whole country has had to tighten its belt."

Huge controversy, indeed. The Mirror splashes with the headline:

"1% For You... 11% For Them."

Another 'all in this together' moment, I guess.


Cyclists will be upset, but is the mayor correct? From the Times:

"Cycling safety campaigners protesting at road deaths risk scaring people off switching from cars to bikes altogether, London mayor Boris Johnson will warn today.

"Mr Johnson will urge 'more careful' language, suggesting pro-cycling campaigners could jeopardise the push to boost bike use by concentrating on recent fatalities on the roads when overall numbers were not up.

"More than 1,000 cyclists recently lay down across a busy central London road in what was dubbed a “die in” outside the headquarters of Transport for London as part of a vigil for those killed."


Watch this video of birds being really annoying to cats.


Remember the Prime Minister's 'big society'? No? Neither, probably, does he. But that hasn't stopped a thinktank doing a big critique of the big society - from the Guardian:

"The big society is 'a policy better suited to the leafy suburbs' than deprived communities, where many small charities working with vulnerable people are in danger of going bust, an audit of David Cameron's social initiative has found.

"The thinktank Civil Exchange said a 'big society gap' has opened up with levels of charitable giving, volunteering and social action strongest in wealthy areas and among privileged professional middle-class groups.

"Although general principles of the policy have cross-party support and are here to stay, the big society is 'failing to live up to its own rhetoric' and its credibility has been undermined because it is seen a cover for spending cuts, it adds."


Balls is defiant - from the Guardian:

"Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, has said that he "couldn't give a toss" about the criticism he has received over the way he replied to the chancellor George Osborne's autumn statement in the Commons.

"In an interview with Sky's Dermot Murnaghan, Balls said on Sunday that Ed Miliband and other senior Labour figures had congratulated him on his performance and that he was not worried because he believed he was winning the argument.

"I've been doing this for 20 years and I've never been less bothered about gossiping and the tittle-tattle, it doesn't matter at all," he said.

"In the end, if the country don't want a Labour government, if the country think George Osborne is on their side, then I've got a problem. Until then, it isn't a problem."

It's not a new line from the shadow chancellor - in a HuffPost interview with me in 2012, he said (about criticisms of him): “I think I probably couldn’t give a flying toss."


From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 34

Ukip 11

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 60.


@TomHarrisMP Honouring Mandela's love, forgiveness and ability to unite: "How dare you pay tribute to him? Our side loved him more than yours!"

@shippersunbound Funny how polls suggest that 449 MPs back a pay rise (69% in Ipsa anonymous survey). And yet only 3 have had the guts to say so today...

@jananganesh People wrong to say there are no great 20th century statesmen left. Russian fella, prominent birth mark...


John Harris, writing in the Guardian, says: "Wages are low, debt is rising, and our economy is as vulnerable as it was five years ago. Yet the Christmas binge is back."

Emma Duncan, writing in the Times, says: "What recovery? Britain is weighed down by old people and lack of productivity."

Peter McKay, writing in the Mail, says: "Why desperate Ed is daft to bring back the Blairites."


My new HuffPost UK blogpost: "Seven Reasons Why Ed Miliband Should Keep Ed Balls As Shadow Chancellor."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol