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IDS

Posted by James O'Brien on February 20, 2013 at 13:47PM

I don't like interviewing politicians. It's not a party political position, I don't like interviewing any of them.

They are so cossetted and insulated and briefed and adept at distraction and prone to waffle that, as a radio presenter ordinarily offered five or six minutes tops, it rarely seems worth my while to let them read their PR notes out loud, answer any questions but the ones I ask and glide glibly over any attempts to root the exchange in reality. And besides, I genuinely prefer talking to 'real' people.

Sometimes you have to make exceptions and when our political editor mentioned that Iain Duncan Smith was doing the interviews around this morning's unemployment figures I decided to make one.

I did this because in recent months I have been trying desperately to work out whether he genuinely believes in things that I, and many others, find almost surreally implausible or whether he is, in fact, knowingly delivering rancid and divisive policies to the people while dressing them up as deserved assaults on the feckless and the workshy.

Whether. for example, he really believes that the relationship 500,000 job vacancies and 2.5 million jobseekers is somehow addressed by making some of the latter do unpaid work in the hope of equipping them with what is needed to fill some of the former.

And whether, when his own Department categorically refutes the claim that its schemes cast benefits as remuneration for labour, he really sees no dissonance or contradiction when he talks of people being 'paid' with JSA to do 'work experience'.

Whether he is being wilfully deceitful when he talks of graduates 'looking down' on shelf-stacking when what they object to is doing it for far less than 'minimum' wage under threat of losing their only income if they don't.

And, more than anything, whether he recognises that his Government's ludicrous narrative of flat screen televisions and closed curtains inevitably tars all unemployed people with the same brush of ill-informed bitterness. And, if he does, whether he genuinely sees it as some sort of 'necessary evil' or whether it is conscious and deliberate 'divide and rule' tactics.

I could go on. The point is, I wanted to conduct an interview about the realities reported to me daily on my phone-in show, not one about some massaged and largely meaningless figures. I think I did that and thank Mr Duncan Smith for letting me.

Did I learn anything concrete? I'm not sure. I still find it hard to believe that he truly doesn't see the scope and scale of the wrongs being done to the country by his policies, that he isn't somehow embarked upon a sincere, albeit to my mind misguided, mission. The problem is, having spoken to him and heard him duck and dodge and deliver ad hominem diatribes, I'm not sure he knows either.

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