In Defence of IDS

Iain Duncan Smith gets a bad rap for his welfare reforms, but there is scarcely a politician in Britain who knows the plight of the poor better than he

by Christian May on 4 April 2013 13:30

When Iain Duncan Smith was dispensed with as leader of the Tory party, he could have been forgiven for sloping off towards a couple of directorships and an easier life.

Instead, he devoted himself to finding solutions to some of society's most deep-rooted and damaging ailments. The story of his inspiration for the Centre for Social Justice has been told many times. The visit to the Easterhouse estate in Glasgow, and the mother who accused him of being just another politician who would soon forget them. 

He didn't forget her, and won't have forgotten the countless other victims of addiction, family breakdown, educational failure and welfare dependency that he has met and spoken to in the years since. 

In 2010 I went back to Easterhouse with Iain, where he was greeted like an old friend by a man who lost his son to heroin and spent his days trying to ensure that no more Easterhouse parents endured the same trauma. 

What did these two men have in common? It's hard to imagine two more divergent lives, and yet both of them were determined to do what they could to help others out of poverty and despair. Throughout the rest of the day we walked all over the estate and the surrounding area. Iain knows it well, and many people there know him. He talked to everyone he met, and there was nothing tokenistic about it. This was not your average fact finding visit and Iain is not your average politician. I've met average politicians dozens of times. They're everywhere. What I wish there were more of is people like Iain.

Whatever faults caused him to lose the party leadership, they're not visible when you see him standing outside a betting shop in the most deprived part of Glasgow, drawing a crowd with his mixture of humour, compassion and conviction. He was never patronising and he was always interested.

Everything he saw on such trips has informed not only his thinking but also the work of the CSJ, who have done more to improve the lives of the most disadvantaged than Owen Jones could do in a lifetime's worth of angry media appearances. Working with a network of small, poverty-fighting charities, the CSJ has developed hundreds of policies designed to tackle everything from educational failure and addiction, to human trafficking and personal debt.

These policies don't just line book shelves in reception, they are being implemented right now - in the Treasury, the Department for Education, the Home Office, the Department for Health and of course the Department for Work and Pensions. Iain has put social justice at the heart of government.

So the caricature of him as a heartless bean-counting right-winger just won't wash. Describing him as such might give Guardian readers something to agree about at a dinner party but it's a description that devalues the debate and highlights how weak the ground is upon which his opponents stand and shout.  

His welfare reforms are a rare thing in politics; they're morally right, necessary and popular. Not even the Labour party, for all its indignation, says whether it would reverse the reforms or not. 

Iain's opponents can criticise his methods all they like, but they should have a little more respect for his motives. 

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