Iain Duncan Smith "hits back" at the left, misses, smacks self in face

5 ways in which the Daily Mail just demonised Iain Duncan Smith.

In today's Daily Mail is a piece in the defence of Iain Duncan Smith against the left. Well, that's what the headline says it is - "Iain Duncan Smith Hits Back At The Left".  But start reading the piece itself and you begin to see the defence is rather double-edged. More of a skewering, really, than a defence. Read on, and you realise the piece is actually a masterclass in the art of damning by faint praise - these people know what they're doing, by God, and they're doing it well. Get to the end, and your thoughts have actually come full circle - the piece IS hitting back at the left -  it's showing the left how it's done. The left, the piece suggests, have been trying their hardest to demonise this man, and they've got nowhere. Here though, it seems to continue, is how to do it. This, right here in your vegan, roll-up stained hands is the definitive template for taking down a Tory MP. Let's just break it down again, for those slower lefties at the back:

First, ignore any defence of Iain Duncan Smith that might actually work - his principles, his intelligence, or the difficult nature of his job - or if you have to just give them a passing mention. Focus on his poverty. Yes, make a real case for this now rich man having at one point been poor (although he wasn't actually that poor).

Second, when bringing up the time he was poor, be careful to stress the ways in which he was better off than the average benefits claimant. For example, that he had somewhere to live, free of charge:

During those days of hardship, he would leave the house each morning and go looking for work, only returning in the evening after his future wife, Betsy Fremantle, had arrived home from her secretarial job.

The honest truth is that I lived illegally with Betsy in the bedsit, trying to pretend I was not there. I didn’t have any money, which is why I tried to avoid the landlady,’ recalls Duncan Smith.

Point out exactly why he makes an easy target now, and then pair that with a comically weak defence:

Fortunately for his enemies, he makes an easy target because he lives today in a £2 million 16th-century house in acres of farmland in Buckinghamshire.

He does not own the house, which belongs to his in-laws Lord and Lady Cottesloe, nor will he inherit it. He moved in a decade ago when Betsy’s parents, who are in their 80s and in frail health, couldn’t manage the property.

The personal vilification we have endured over where we live is outrageous,’ he says. ‘I am not involved in the property and Betsy does not have a financial interest. We don’t get a bean from the farm and have never drawn any income from her parents.’

In fact, screw it: you can't have too much lavish description of his wealth (or too much comic bathos to follow):

It was home to Sir Thomas Fremantle, an admiral who served with Lord Nelson in the Napoleonic wars, and whose son, also called Thomas, was a Conservative politician and the first Baron Cottesloe.

Betsy’s grandfather, the 4th Lord Cottesloe, was the unpaid chairman of the Arts Council and instrumental in the creation of the National Theatre. One of the National’s three theatres bears the Cottesloe name.

Duncan Smith says: ‘It is upsetting when they keep on about our privileged lifestyle. When times got tough we adjusted our spending accordingly.’

Make sure any points you make in this piece in his defence can be undermined by something you wrote earlier:

Duncan Smith knows the personal abuse will continue and that the Left will continue to exaggerate his wealth. In fact, the only property he owns is a one-bedroom former council flat in London.

..and from the Mail in 2001:

And for the final flourish, every time you suggest he is poor, make sure you "contextualise" this poverty in the right way. He's poor because he spent all his money from the yacht sale on soufflés, or he's poor because he spent all of his trust fund on skiing holidays, or...

Most of the money from the sale of their Fulham home, after they moved in with their in-laws, was spent on their children’s private education. Their eldest son went to a state primary school and won a scholarship to Eton.

Daily Mail, you have done us proud.

Iain Duncan Smith. Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle