Iain Duncan Smith was in an aggressive mood when he appeared before MPs this morning to explain the latest awkward report on universal credit to the Commons. He combined his anger with a plethora of jargon. This made for an interesting debate, as it’s very difficult to sound punchy and angry while talking about ‘agile processes’, ‘roll-outs’ and ‘pathfinders’ (although mercifully he didn’t use ‘pathfinder as a verb’, as he and other colleagues have in the past).
At one point the Work and Pensions Secretary forcefully told MPs that he was looking at ‘rolling out in the autumn a clear statement’, which sounded a bit as though he was planning to unveil a scroll with a complete business plan for universal credit.
But whatever will be on that scroll won’t just be Duncan Smith claiming that things are going to be just about OK. The most interesting thing about his statement was that he did not try to fudge his predictions for Universal Credit: instead, he said:
‘The reality is that this will be delivered on time and on budget.’
He said this so many times – and has said it in his broadcast interviews today as well – that it was clear that Duncan Smith sincerely believes that this isn’t going to go the way of other big Whitehall projects that start out so grand and exciting, and end up looking a bit deflated, like a bouncy castle with a little puncture. He’s not the only one: I spoke to one Whitehall insider earlier who said the project ‘wasn’t as big as everyone thinks it is’ and that in spite of all the problems, it will come in on time.
He wasn’t just turning up the jargon he was turning up the confident language as well. Which means he either has really good indications in his department now that universal credit really will work, or he doesn’t mind his reputation being fatally punctured as it would be if the whole thing collapses.Tags: Iain Duncan Smith, UK politics, Universal credit, Welfare