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Matthew Norman, David Brenteron and the end of the compassionate Conservative

21 January 2012

3:34 PM

21 January 2012

3:34 PM

Until now I haven’t seen Matthew Norman as a radical figure in British journalism.
But his column in the Independent this week
was a genuine anti-establishment rant in the best tradition. The headline was a corker: ‘Cameron is the David Brent of welfare reform’ – clear, to-the-point and expressive of the
fury of the piece to come (he later describes the man he dubs ‘David Brenteron’ as a ‘galaxy-class hypocrite’ for his government’s betrayal of the disabled in its
welfare reforms). It is difficult to choose a single passage from the article as every single sentence drips with delicious anger, but the final paragraph is worth reading in full:

‘Whatever damage peers inflict on this snarling Pitbull of a Bill, however many of its teeth they remove, its advancement has taught us something chilling about the Prime Minister. For
all his personal experience, expressions of paternal goodwill towards the disabled and fraternal concern for their carers, at the first clanging of the alarm bells his instinct was to scarper,
and leave them in the stairwell to burn.’

I was struck by the piece, not just because of the purity of Norman’s vitriol, but because almost everyone else in the political class seemed to be turning on Ed Miliband this
week. It pulled me up short because, whether you agree with the coalition’s policies or not, it is the government we should be all be focusing on rather than the sideshow of the Labour
Party’s existential crisis.

Thus far Cameron’s Work and Pensions triumvirate of Iain Duncan Smith, Lord Freud and Chris Grayling have been given the benefit of the doubt. The long years IDS spent wandering the country
with furrowed brow ministering to gangs and dwellers of Scottish housing ‘schemes’ has somehow protected him from the scrutiny he might otherwise have faced. But was there ever any
reason to believe he would be a better secretary of state than he was a party leader?

This week has significantly tested the ‘compassionate Conservative’ credentials of this government. The sight of ministers attacking migrant benefit claimants as youth unemployment hit
record levels was particularly distasteful.

Most of the political class (this journalist included) will always find it easier to ridicule the opposition than speak truth to those who hold the genuine power to do harm (and good). This is why
I salute those, such as Matthew Norman, who have the courage to tell it as they see it.

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