Even boxing promoters would have had a hard time talking up the ‘spat’ between the so-called Grey Man and the Quiet Man of politics.
The hyperbolic talents of Don King would be hard-pressed to hide the fact that what Sir John Major and Iain Duncan Smith need, more than anything else, is a sense of proportion. People are suffering, and all they do is squabble.
It was Major who opened hostilities. In a speech on Tuesday, he questioned Smith’s attack on the British social security system, saying: “I truly wish him well. But it is enormously complicated and unless he is very lucky, which he may not be, or a genius, which – the last time I looked – was unproven, he may get some of it wrong.”
We were to see evidence of this very quickly, as the government has been forced to announce that its plan to shift people from Disability Living Allowance to the new Personal Independence Payment has been delayed. Instead of rolling out across the whole of England, Scotland and Wales next week, it will now happen in only certain areas.
If their condition changes, claimants in Wales, the East and West Midlands and East Anglia will transfer to PIP. Otherwise, everybody will remain on DLA.
The announcement echoes one earlier this year, in which Smith’s much-trumpeted Universal Credit rolled it, not so much with a bang as with a moan – in just one pilot area, where only the simplest cases were handled.
For those affected, this can only be a relief. PIP will be payable to fewer people than DLA because it has tougher requirements. For example, people used to qualify for the mobility component if they could not walk 50m; under the new benefit this has been cut to 20m for no good reason.
Sir John’s remarks revived hostilities between himself and the Work and Pensions Secretary that have been dormant since the early 1990s, when Smith was one of a group of Tory rebels who campaigned against the decision to sign the Maastricht Treaty for European Union integration.
In an interview at the time, Sir John described his opponents as “bastards”. He repeated the phrase in Tuesday’s speech, admitting its use was “unacceptable” – but then he added that his “only excuse was that it was true”.
Smith, nicknamed ‘Returned To Unit’ (or ‘RTU’ for short) by this site in recognition of his many failings and unanswered questions about his army career, responded by telling the Evening Standard: “I just say I think we should all look at each other and be a little more pleasant.”
Is that so, Iain?
May we take it that this is a new policy, and you will be telling staff in all your Job Centres and every DWP office, up and down the country, that they should be more pleasant to the people who have to use the excuse for a service that they provide?
Are they now to stop trying to bully people off Jobseekers’ Allowance any way they can, and to actually start treating their fellow citizens with the respect that has been missing from those places since you took over as Work and Pensions Secretary?
Perhaps the private Work Programme providers you pay to take these people off the unemployment statistics will start actually trying to help our unemployed people, instead of putting them on pointless courses in things they know already and pocketing the lion’s share of the cash?
Well, that’s no surprise to anyone. You don’t listen to anything but your own beliefs. It’s long past time you grew up and admitted the failures inherent in Universal Credit, PIP and all your other reforms. In other words, get your priorities right.
And Sir John? That goes for you, too. You have no right to the moral high ground when your government set the scene for many of the problems we have today.