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.

Getty
Show Hide image

In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser