I would like to volunteer to be shrunk and placed inside Iain Duncan Smith‘s brain. I’m reluctant (who wouldn’t be?), but after his declaration that poor unemployed people with more than two children should lose benefits, I feel I have no choice. I would require night vision goggles to see through the murk of his reasoning; also, a leaf blower to get rid of the dense cobwebs of what appears to be an entrenched 18th-century world view.
Stumbling around Duncan Smith’s brain, I expect to come across a giant crumbling cuckoo clock, ticking monotonously but always showing the wrong time, with two tableaux alternating beneath. One: a decent-looking fellow (circa 1950s) doffing his cap to his “betters”. Then another ghastly apparition: a couple slumped on a sofa, drinking, smoking, eating chicken from a bucket, cackling evilly as they fill out endless benefit forms for their many unkempt children. At one point, the woman will lift her skirts and give birth again, directly into the chicken bucket (“Nice little earner!”). Horrifying, but also long suspected: it’s Duncan Smith’s unshakeable vision of Britain’s deserving and undeserving poor.
If you think I’m being dramatic, you should hear him. In his view, hardworking (striving) people are procreating at just the correct rate to suit their budget. Meanwhile, poor unemployed (skiving?) people are just chucking them out, because they know the state will pay for them. Duncan Smith proposes that this group only receive aid for the first two children, presumably in terms of child benefit, tax credits, housing et al. However, those who already have an excess of children would not be affected, presumably to give the fecklessly shagging poor time to put their reproductive organs in order. (Oh, thank you kindly, most merciful gentleman!)
First of all, what is this: “Benefits China”? It brought in a one-child rule in one way; IDS wants a two-child rule in another way, but there seems scant ethical difference. And the truth is there aren’t even that many over-procreating skivers. It’s already been pointed out that, by targeting the surprisingly small amount of long-term unemployed, with more than two children, Duncan Smith won’t save much money. The vast majority of people on jobseeker’s allowance are back working within a year and only 4% have more than two children. Targeting these “skivers”, then, IDS would only claw back a few hundred million, nowhere near the amount (£10bn) George Osborne wants cut from welfare by 2016, on top of the benefits cap.
The Lib Dems have called this “Tory kite flying”. Others suspect that Duncan Smith is including in his private calculations the far larger, and infinitely more lucrative, group of struggling working parents who need their low wages supplemented by benefits. That would hit the spot – such savings could recoup billions. Inconveniently for Duncan Smith, such an action would also instantly negate his apocalyptic vision of mindlessly procreating “bogey-family” benefit scroungers.
Deep down, Duncan Smith must understand that no one in their right mind longs for a lifetime on benefits. He must also realise that people can’t see into the future to ensure they can always afford their children. Just like everyone else, he has access to statistics that prove that very few parents would ever plot towards such an existence.
So what’s this all about? While Duncan Smith tries to get people riled about skivers (leeching off us, laughing at us, procreating at us!), it appears to be a smokescreen for others he might decide to go after: people who are working, doing their best, but still struggling to survive and in need of short- or long-term help. That’s basically those “strivers” he keeps saying he’s protecting and representing. The idea that Duncan Smith doesn’t understand this is frightening, though not as frightening as the thought that he does, but doesn’t care. If it comes to it, I’ve got my goggles and my leaf blower. I’m ready to go in.
All you need is Love for the Cobain musical
It’s emerged, bizarrely, via a court case concerning Britney Spears (don’t ask, just keep moving) that Courtney Love is planning a Broadway musical about her life with Kurt Cobain.
I love Love, crazy wild dame that she is. I once interviewed her and looked up to find her naked breasts inches from my face as she stood in her knickers, applying deodorant. She’d just decided to save time by being interviewed and freshening up in one go. It happens. Actually, it really doesn’t, except when you’re interviewing Courtney.
Love’s plans keep changing (a play? a film?) but let’s hope it stays as a musical. Especially if Love is still at loggerheads with former members of Nirvana, can’t use the original songs and has to improvise with “reimaginings”. There could be jaunty interludes (“Pregnancy’s a drag/Fetch me a fag”), haunting reprises (“Memory/ All alone with the Vanity Fair reporter”) and teases (“Smells like … Kurt’s been in that same stripy top for six months now”).
No offence to Nirvana, but this could be brilliant: the Acorn Antiques of grunge. A more fitting epitaph for anti-capitalist warrior Cobain would be hard to conceive.
Would you want to defrock a journo?
Ahead of next month’s Leveson report, Lord Sugar says that misbehaving journalists should be “struck off”, in the manner of lawyers or doctors, and “barred from practising their profession”. The serious business of phone hacking aside, I can’t help but be intrigued by the notion of hacks being “struck off” and “barred from practising”.
To ensure no innocent editor is tricked into hiring these defrocked miscreants, may I suggest that their foreheads are branded with hot irons, with the legend, say, “A Hack No More”? They could also ring a little bell, have bats flying around their heads and keep up a terrible wailing as they face a cruel and unimaginable future without billable expenses.
Then again, Sugar seems to be under the impression that all journalists attend the same Big Boy and Girl Journalism School and leave with little scrolls saying they’re really good spellers or whatever. I’m sure some do but journalism as a profession – or, rather, a trade – works as a semi-permeable membrane that sucks in myriad types from a variety of backgrounds, for a multiplicity of reasons, often types with no formal training to speak of.
“Disbarring” such a disparate collection of humanity might be difficult, not least because you’d first have to find us in the bar.
All of which brings to mind a critique of Martin Amis I once read, which said that he was not a novelist, “merely a very clever journalist”. I remember thinking: “Bloody hell – is that supposed to be an insult? I wish somebody would call me ‘a very clever journalist’. In fact, I wish somebody would call me a ‘journalist’.”
So, cool your jets, Lord Sugar. When it comes to being struck off, some of us ever-so-humble hacks would first have to feel “struck on”.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010