By Paul Goodman
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It's characteristic of George Osborne, professional politician that he is, to have dodged the inevitable question this week on whether he could live on £53 a week, and also characteristic of Iain Duncan Smith, who is not a professional politician at all, to have confronted it.
Andrew Pierce of the Daily Mail, which is very supportive of the Work and Pensions Secretary, has a sympathetic interview with IDS today in which he describes his period as "an unemployed soldier returning home each day to his girlfriend’s tiny bedsit in a bleak Victorian house, trying not to lose hope at a time when unemployment levels were nudging to a post-war high of 3 million".
‘The honest truth is that I lived illegally with Betsy in the bedsit, trying to pretend I was not there. I didn’t have any money, which is why I tried to avoid the landlady,’ recalls Duncan Smith.
IDS and his future wife were living in one room with a one-ring gas oven, and had to keep the meter fed in case the gas ran out halfway through cooking dinner. Each day he put on his only suit and went to the nearest job exchange – rather in the manner of Norman Tebbit's father, who famously got on his bike and looked for work – before going on to the library.
The man who is now Work and Pensions Secretary, and has been the party's leader, was never going to starve. But Pierce's interview is a fascinating study of part of his life. He has had his ups and downs, has IDS – more, I think, than most of his fellow Cabinet members.
Artless he may, but his quirky combination of spontaneity, social concern and doggedness have stood him in excellent stead in the welfare reform debate – so far. As we've seen this week, it's livening up…and he has the Universal Credit to deliver.