Duncan Smith rejects evidence-based policy: "I believe this to be true"

There's no evidence for his claim that 8,000 people moved into work as a result of the benefit cap but he "believes" it regardless.

I've already told you five things Iain Duncan Smith doesn't want you to know about the benefit cap (which is introduced nationally today), but I couldn't allow his egregious interview on the Today progamme this morning to pass without comment. 

Early on in his duel with John Humphrys, the Work and Pensions Secretary declared that the homelessness figures had "hardly moved". The reality? Homelessness in England is up by 27 per cent since the government came to power in 2010. 

Later challenged over his claim that 8,000 people moved into work as a result of the benefit cap (a statement that the UK Statistics Authority said was "unsupported by the official statistics"), Duncan Smith decided to dispense with any pretence of evidence-based policy. "I believe this to be true!" he cried, demonstrating the same faith-based approach that led George Osborne to believe that cutting public spending in the middle of a slump would lead to higher growth.

He told Humphrys:

The reality is, I believe that to be right. I believe that we are already seeing people go back to work, who were not going to go back to work until they were assured of the cap.

Any remaining ambition that David Cameron had to lead the "the most open and transparent government in the world" finally died with those words. 

P.S. In an apparent fulfilment of his prophecy that "too many tweets might make a twat", David Cameron tweeted this morning.

We're rolling out a cap on Benefits today - @IDS_MP and I are determined to make work pay, and help the UK compete on the #GlobalRace.

— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) July 15, 2013

Unfortunately for Cameron, @IDS_MP is not, as he thought, the Work and Pensions Secretary but a spoof account whose recent tweets include "I've always supported a Mansion Tax. Your Tax buys my Mansion. Chin chin!" and "A thrifty way to keep cool in this heat wave is to dab the ice from your Champagne bucket onto your forehead."

Iain Duncan Smith arrives for a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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