Self-help crusade ignores cash facts

Iain Duncan Smith is a decent man and an excellent constituency MP
who hasn’t had much luck lately, whether as a blockbuster author or
a performer in his one-man show – or, come to that, as leader of
the Conservative Party. However, he is nothing if not resilient.

Only 67 people paid to enjoy An Audience with Iain Duncan
in Liverpool recently. But as one his friends remarked,
that’s a pretty good Tory turn-out in the staunchly Labour

Now, it transpires, Duncan Smith’s trips have persuaded him that
poor communities can do more to lift themselves up with a little
help – but not interference – from government.

He will soon launch his Institute for Social Justice, a think-tank
whose aim is to remind the Tories that they must never abandon the

In an article in the Daily Telegraph, however, he reveals
that while he may be looking to the future in “the war on poverty”,
his ideas are rooted in the past. For instance, he blames Labour
for allegedly increasing dependence on the state – while then going
on to recognise the rise of “social entrepreneurs”, catalysts in
their own community whose abilities, he argues, have been
handicapped by the dead weight of bureaucracy.

He quotes one project leader: “We fear the hand of government. They
offer money, but you know that this money comes with a set of new
targets and these targets come with a civil servant who will
measure your performance. Before you know it, you are no longer
working for the people on the estate but have become part of the
government machine.”

Of course, the unnamed project leader’s views are common wherever
regeneration is the major local industry. But if IDS is sincere in
his new crusade, then he has to acknowledge the dilemma faced by
all governments. How do you maintain probity and the pace of
progress in grassroots schemes without throttling enthusiasm and
talent with yards of red tape?

Labour doesn’t have the answer. IDS advocates inspiration and
compassion, both of which come cheap. If Labour’s record – and half
a million children have been lifted out of poverty – tells us
anything it’s that no matter how modernised the notion of
“self-help”, it still requires old-fashioned pounds and pence to
give it a kickstart. So how do IDS and Michael Howard square that
with a commitment to cutting taxes and rolling back the state?

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