THE New Journal footage of Conservative councillor Jonny Bucknell asking Iain Duncan Smith whether benefit sanctions were going too far was spread far and wide last week. The Daily Mirror lifted the film without clearance from us (who do I invoice?) but in doing so triggered a social media avalanche and heavily hit web pages all round. By Saturday, Labour’s Owen Smith, the shadow work and pensions secretary, was reporting IDS to the UK Statistics Authority questioning the accuracy in the claim that 75 percent of those sanctioned were glad of the way the penalties had helped them focus. He must be quaking in his boots about that one, but there you go.
“It really clarifies the mind,” IDS had, in regards to sanctions, told Jonny, who by asking the questions was keeping his word from last October when at the Conservative Party conference he decided to confront masked protesters heckling delegates as they arrived in Manchester. He had said he would take their complaint about the sanctions being too harsh and far-ranging to IDS if he had the chance, and here it was at a street stall in Belsize Park.
The interesting thing about the film, however, is how relaxed Mr Duncan Smith is, almost savouring the task of not letting Jonny get a word in. The contrast with how he spoke to Jonny, and how he spoke to me, as a journalist, afterwards was stark. To Jonny, he says things like ‘these people are never going to vote for us, you have to understand these people hate us’, a sentiment which catches your ear for running across the idea that politics is about negotiating with everyone.
But when speaking to me, his answers seemed almost designed to deaden the debate and avoid any Saturday lunchtime controversy. The anger and spark was gone, the answers were suddenly ultra technical as if rigidly being rolled off for a textbook and as such completely unfriendly for a newspaper readership, His voice ran monotone and only raised in enthusiasm and excitement again when I asked him an and finally question about whether his beloved Tottenham Hotspur will be Premier League champions in May.
Of course, politicians have trained themselves to be on guard when they are introduced to a journalist, even one from the lil’ ‘ol Camden New Journal, and it can all get very reserved, but we already saw in the Labour Party leadership contest last summer how you can win points for being open and baldy saying what you think. I may have drawn a blank with the quiet man, but in his answers to Jonny, IDS at last seemed to be doing just that.