We were all so thrilled at the time. After being outed as a liar by some of our favourite blogs, and after more than 100,000 people signed a petition calling for him to be held to account, we heard that Iain Duncan Smith was to be called before Parliament’s Work and Pensions committee to account for the statistical falsehoods he has been spreading around Westminster and the UK like a new disease.
Now we learn that he will not, after all, be appearing to give evidence before the committee on the production and release of DWP statistics, despite that meeting having been postponed from June until mid-July.
The session, covering recent UK Statistics Authority investigations into complaints about benefit statistics and the DWP’s response, the quality and accessibility of the department’s statistics, its processes for preparing and releasing statistics, and its role in helping the media interpret those statistics, will instead question two civil servants.
They are David Frazer, head of information, governance and security directorate at the DWP; and John Shields, director of communications at the DWP. And they are completely uninteresting.
I can tell you what they’ll say right now. They’ll say they produced the statistics in good faith, all with warnings on them, telling ministers like the Secretary-in-a-State that they should not be misrepresented in certain ways (especially the ways he has misrepresented them).
For example: Smith’s claim that “Already we’ve seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the [benefits] cap move into jobs. This clearly demonstrates that the cap is having the desired impact.”
We know there is no evidence to support this claim. We also know that the DWP officials who provided the figures issued an explicit caution, that they were “not intended to show the additional numbers entering work as a direct result of the contact”.
It is therefore pointless to interrogate the officials over the wrongdoing of the Secretary of State, or any other Conservative or Coalition MP who has bent the facts before the public.
The no-show by the DWP’s head honcho will be a huge let-down, especially for the 100,332 people who signed disability activists Jayne Linney and Debbie Sayers’ petition for the Work and Pensions Committee to hold Iain Duncan Smith to account for his lies.
After the committee announced that it would question him in June, they wrote: “We are really proud that we started this petition. It’s often feels like politicians get away with saying whatever they like. By starting this petition we’ve shown that everyone has the tools to call politicians out if they try to make things up. They can’t get away with spinning statistics any longer.”
It is now apparent that politicians think they can get away with it if they don’t bother to turn up and explain themselves.
So let’s just put it to the Work and Pensions committee that it should forget about the meeting, which is now due to take place on July 10.
Let’s all accept Iain Duncan Smith’s refusal to attend as what it is – an act of cowardice and an admission of guilt.
If he won’t defend himself, then he must stand guilty of the offence.
This brings us to the question of the penalty he should pay.
I refer you to my article earlier this year, in which I quoted Parliamentary convention: “Apparently there is an offence, here in the UK, known as Contempt of Parliament. An MP is guilty of this if he or she deliberately misleads Parliament, and any MP accused of the offence may be suspended or expelled.
“It’s time for Iain Duncan Smith to put up or shut up. He must either admit that he lied to Parliament and to the people in order to justify his despicable treatment of the most vulnerable people in the country…
“… or he must be expelled from Parliament like the disgrace that he is.”
He has made it clear that he will admit nothing. He won’t even bother to explain himself.
There is now only one option available. It’s time he got the boot.