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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Donald Trump ushers in a new era of kakistocracy: government by the worst people

Trump will lead the whitest, most male cabinet in memory – a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

“What fills me with doubt and dismay is the degradation of the moral tone,” wrote the American poet James Russell Lowell in 1876, in a letter to his fellow poet Joel Benton. “Is it or is it not a result of democracy? Is ours a ‘government of the people by the people for the people’, or a kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?”

Is there a better, more apt description of the incoming Trump administration than “kakistocracy”, which translates from the Greek literally as government by the worst people? The new US president, as Barack Obama remarked on the campaign trail, is “uniquely unqualified” to be commander-in-chief. There is no historical analogy for a President Trump. He combines in a single person some of the worst qualities of some of the worst US presidents: the Donald makes Nixon look honest, Clinton look chaste, Bush look smart.

Trump began his tenure as president-elect in November by agreeing to pay out $25m to settle fraud claims brought against the now defunct Trump University by dozens of former students; he began the new year being deposed as part of his lawsuit against a celebrity chef. On 10 January, the Federal Election Commission sent the Trump campaign a 250-page letter outlining a series of potentially illegal campaign contributions. A day later, the head of the non-partisan US Office of Government Ethics slammed Trump’s plan to step back from running his businesses as “meaningless from a conflict-of-interest perspective”.

It cannot be repeated often enough: none of this is normal. There is no precedent for such behaviour, and while kakistocracy may be a term unfamiliar to most of us, this is what it looks like. Forget 1876: be prepared for four years of epic misgovernance and brazen corruption. Despite claiming in his convention speech, “I alone can fix it,” the former reality TV star won’t be governing on his own. He will be in charge of the richest, whitest, most male cabinet in living memory; a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

There has been much discussion about the lack of experience of many of Trump’s appointees (think of the incoming secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who has no background in diplomacy or foreign affairs) and their alleged bigotry (the Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, denied a role as a federal judge in the 1980s following claims of racial discrimination, is on course to be confirmed as attorney general). Yet what should equally worry the average American is that Trump has picked people who, in the words of the historian Meg Jacobs, “are downright hostile to the mission of the agency they are appointed to run”. With their new Republican president’s blessing, they want to roll back support for the poorest, most vulnerable members of society and don’t give a damn how much damage they do in the process.

Take Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general selected to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt describes himself on his LinkedIn page as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” and has claimed that the debate over climate change is “far from settled”.

The former neurosurgeon Ben Carson is Trump’s pick for housing and urban development, a department with a $49bn budget that helps low-income families own homes and pay the rent. Carson has no background in housing policy, is an anti-welfare ideologue and ruled himself out of a cabinet job shortly after the election. “Dr Carson feels he has no government experience,” his spokesman said at the time. “He’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”

The fast-food mogul Andrew Puzder, who was tapped to run the department of labour, doesn’t like . . . well . . . labour. He prefers robots, telling Business Insider in March 2016: “They’re always polite . . . They never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

The billionaire Republican donor Betsy DeVos, nominated to run the department of education, did not attend state school and neither did any of her four children. She has never been a teacher, has no background in education and is a champion of school vouchers and privatisation. To quote the education historian Diane Ravitch: “If confirmed, DeVos will be the first education secretary who is actively hostile to public education.”

The former Texas governor Rick Perry, nominated for the role of energy secretary by Trump, promised to abolish the department that he has been asked to run while trying to secure his party’s presidential nomination in 2011. Compare and contrast Perry, who has an undergraduate degree in animal science but failed a chemistry course in college, with his two predecessors under President Obama: Dr Ernest Moniz, the former head of MIT’s physics department, and Dr Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist from Berkeley. In many ways, Perry, who spent the latter half of 2016 as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, is the ultimate kakistocratic appointment.

“Do Trump’s cabinet picks want to run the government – or dismantle it?” asked a headline in the Chicago Tribune in December. That’s one rather polite way of putting it. Another would be to note, as the Online Etymology Dictionary does, that kakistocracy comes from kakistos, the Greek word for “worst”, which is a superlative of kakos, or “bad”, which “is related to the general Indo-European word for ‘defecate’”.

Mehdi Hasan has rejoined the New Statesman as a contributing editor and will write a fortnightly column on US politics

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era