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.

Photo: Getty
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UnHerd's rejection of the new isn't as groundbreaking as it seems to think

Tim Montgomerie's new venture has some promise, but it's trying to solve an old problem.

Information overload is oft-cited as one of the main drawbacks of the modern age. There is simply too much to take in, especially when it comes to news. Hourly radio bulletins, rolling news channels and the constant stream of updates available from the internet – there is just more than any one person can consume. 

Luckily Tim Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome and former Times comment editor, is here to help. Montgomerie is launching UnHerd, a new media venture that promises to pull back and focus on "the important things rather than the latest things". 

According to Montgomerie the site has a "package of investment", at least some of which comes from Paul Marshall. He is co-founder of one of Europe's largest hedge funds, Marshall Wace, formerly a longstanding Lib Dem, and also one of the main backers and chair of Ark Schools, an academy chain. The money behind the project is on display in UnHerd's swish (if slightly overwhelming) site, Google ads promoting the homepage, and article commissions worth up to $5,000. The selection of articles at launch includes an entertaining piece by Lionel Shriver on being a "news-aholic", though currently most of the bylines belong to Montgomerie himself. 

Guidelines for contributors, also meant to reflect the site's "values", contain some sensible advice. This includes breaking down ideas into bullet points, thinking about who is likely to read and promote articles, and footnoting facts. 

The guidelines also suggest focusing on what people will "still want to read in six, 12 or 24 months" and that will "be of interest to someone in Cincinnati or Perth as well as Vancouver or St Petersburg and Cape Town and Edinburgh" – though it's not quite clear how one of Montgomerie's early contributions, a defence of George Osborne's editorship of the Evening Standard, quite fits that global criteria. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the full page comment piece Montgomerie got in Osborne's paper to bemoan the deficiencies of modern media on the day UnHerd launched. 

UnHerd's mascot  – a cow – has also created some confusion, compounded by another line in the writing tips describing it as "a cow, who like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behave in unmissable ways as a result". At least Montgomerie only picked the second-most famous poster animal for herding behaviour. It could have been a sheep. In any case, the line has since disappeared from the post – suggesting the zoological inadequacy of the metaphor may have been recognised. 

There is one way in which UnHerd perfectly embodies its stated aim of avoiding the new – the idea that we need to address the frenetic nature of modern news has been around for years.

"Slow news" – a more considered approach to what's going on in the world that takes in the bigger picture – has been talked about since at least the beginning of this decade.

In fact, it's been around so long that it has become positively mainstream. That pusher of rolling coverage the BBC has been talking about using slow news to counteract fake news, and Montgomerie's old employers, the Times decided last year to move to publishing digital editions at set points during the day, rather than constantly updating as stories break. Even the Guardian – which has most enthusiastically embraced the crack-cocaine of rolling web coverage, the live blog – also publishes regular long reads taking a deep dive into a weighty subject. 

UnHerd may well find an audience particularly attuned to its approach and values. It intends to introduce paid services – an especially good idea given the perverse incentives to chase traffic that come with relying on digital advertising. The ethos it is pitching may well help persuade people to pay, and I don't doubt Montgomerie will be able to find good writers who will deal with big ideas in interesting ways. 

But the idea UnHerd is offering a groundbreaking solution to information overload is faintly ludicrous. There are plenty of ways for people to disengage from the news cycle – and plenty of sources of information and good writing that allow people to do it while staying informed. It's just that given so many opportunities to stay up to date with what has just happened, few people decide they would rather not know.