The fascination of IDS rages on social media like no other.
Iain Duncan-Smith. Failed ex-Tory leader. The "Quiet Man".
Dubious CV and mediocre in every way, somehow this man has risen to the very highest positions of power we can bestow. Despite a few wobbles along the way, he has had a lengthy career at the highest levels of right-wing politics, influencing the way all of us live our lives in some way.
If ever the marmite definition applied to anyone, it applies to Mr Smith.
You either believe he is the only real Tory left in government. You admire him and believe that he is Christian, compassionate, and following a genuinely righteous course. You might wish he was leader instead of the odious Cameron and respect his conservative, ideological "British Values."
You don't have to be a Conservative to feel that way. His welfare reforms have been trailed as one of the only successful strands of this government's programme. "At least they're getting tough on scroungers."
This is the commonly held view, and a popular one. There are over 900 other articles on this blog that will explain in detail why this is fundamentally untrue. But the question I hear people ask more and more is "How?"
Because millions of other people in the UK believe that he is the most dangerous, incompetent, ignorant man of modern times. They believe this with a horror, a kind of silent-scream that somehow can't be heard.
They know that he has failed in every way at every last attempt he has made to "reform" our welfare system. He has spent £18 billion MORE than he saved, costing the taxpayer in endless failed projects and abandoned lives.
So how has this man managed to maintain the myth? Why do most of the country think he's doing a good job, when everyone involved in his reforms - from DWP staff themselves to recipients, social workers, charities and government advisors know that we are witnessing the greatest departmental chaos in living memory?
It's no coincidence, believe me. Mr Duncan-Smith has found himself in a position so fortunate, he can literally do anything he chooses with complete impunity. He is a politician who simply cannot be challenged. Combined with a natural belief that he is fulfilling a great and necessary social vision and an irritable tendency to dismiss all opposition, that storm threatens all of us more than we even begin to imagine.
Firstly, he is the staunch right-hand flank of the scattered and frayed remains of the grassroots Conservative party. They detest Cameron, as do most of the right wing press. Without IDS, to them, Cameron is just a metropolitan liberal and they're already leaving the party in droves or flirting dangerously with UKIP because of it.
So the first rule is that IDS cannot be reshuffled. No matter what. There are considerable rumors that Cameron's cabal are just as unhappy about this as we are. Osborne allegedly tried to move him in the first reshuffle, but he argued that he would not do any other job than welfare reform. He threatened to go so they kept him on. Since then, Cameron's position has only got weaker and therefore, IDS' more indispensable.
Secondly, the Conservatives plan to fight the next election on their welfare record. They've made it very clear that they believe Labour are weak on "welfare" and all of the polling shows that it is one of their strongest policy areas with the public. If it was revealed for what it is, their vote would collapse.
So no matter that Universal Credit, IDS great idea for benefit reform has utterly failed in every way and almost certainly will not happen at all. No matter that hundreds of millions had to be written off on failed IT or that only 6,000 people have been transferred against a projected million or so, absolutely no Conservative voices - political or media - are allowed to acknowledge his failures in any way. Ditto his sickness benefit reforms that have now ground to an almost complete standstill or that his disability reform will take 42 years to rollout at the current pace. These are the truths that dare not speak their name.
Thirdly, everyone expected huge opposition to his social security reforms. They braced themselves for hell and I imagine, think they got off quite lightly on the whole. The people complaining are the people affected or those with vested interests in supporting them - who expected that they wouldn't? It's for the greater good. Of course there will be unfortunate "collateral damage" - some wrong decisions, bedding in problems, but most in the country believe that it is necessary and that most people affected can actually man-up and get on with their lives. If we just throw them in the deep end, we believe that most of them could actually swim all along.
So no matter how good or varied the evidence, no matter how influential the charity or think tank, no matter how desperate the individual stories, IDS can simply dismiss them all. No matter if the courts find against him, that's just namby-pamby health and safety stuff. No matter how devastating the report or explosive the whistle blower, IDS can sneer patronisingly that they are just trying to stay on their easy-ticket. Why wouldn't they?
So no matter how genuine the claim or how desperate the need, you can easily be put in that pile of "people over there"
And finally, he has a few tricks up his sleeve to make sure that the whole construct doesn't get blown apart.
He refuses point blank to engage. He will not take part in any public appearance with anyone that opposes him. Nor will any of his department. Opposition ministers, campaigners, charities, he simply refuses to do it or to send even the lowliest SpAd from the DWP. This is much cleverer than it might seem. If they don't debate, there is usually no debate. Interviews are cancelled, stories get bumped and the public never ever have to hear him put on the spot. Ever. Or any of his ministers or anyone involved in the contracts (who are bound by gagging clauses).
You simply never get to hear him defend himself as other politicians do. Interviewers are either 100% signed up to his aims anyway or so woefully short on detail and understanding of the monstrously complicated welfare system that he can easily duck away.
He has politicised the DWP Press office in a way forbidden by parliamentary procedure. They share his misleading statistics, or push his failures as successes, hold back evidence and spin stories in his favour. They have been repeatedly pulled up on this by the NSA and other agencies.
He regularly writes threatening letters to the BBC or other outlets complaining if they put any opposition balance to his policies at all. His department instruct how they must refer to policies and on what terms they will appear.
He uses prominent right wing media - predominantly the Express, Mail and Telegraph to parade misleading articles and claims. They are often so similar, that it's clear they were written by IDS' department and they repeat the same inaccurate claims. If he wishes to announce literally anything he cares to, those 3 outlets will all make sure that it is front page that day, they won't question the information and most of it will be written by whoever wrote the DWP spin. The BBC will usually then carry the stories too, leading unsuspecting members of the public to have no reason whatsoever to question them as anything other than fact.
So it's not amazing, or surprising at all. His job is utterly secure as long as Cameron is leader, he cannot be questioned in any way in case it jeopardises the election strategy and the public are shielded from the full impact of his failures. Sure, there is a story here or there, but the main message is "Great guy, doing a difficult job"
Is it any wonder the debate is so farcically biased? Is it any wonder campaigners and opponents have failed to make even the tiniest dent in his armour? What he actually does is irrelevant. Whether he reforms social security or not is irrelevant. He simply has to stay put.
Fooling the public is the easy bit, they have loads of people who can take care of that.