What would you do if you had the chance to talk to Iain Duncan Smith, head of the DWP, so-called “Butcher of Benefits” and my local MP? I asked that question on Facebook and the answers ranged from the violent to the unprintable. But it wasn’t just an academic survey – I was about to be on the same traffic island as the man himself, and I wanted to be prepared.
I’ve made my feelings about IDS quite clear before – it disgusts me that someone who represents my constituency is so adept at screwing over the most vulnerable in our society. But how to articulate that?
Well, it all started with a parking issue. I live in a part of Waltham Forest that does not currently have controlled parking. There was a proposal to introduce charges, we voted and it was overturned. As a car owner, I was relatively happy about this. One of the driving (pun intended) forces behind overturning the proposal was the Rate Payers’ Action Group and they were not just relatively happy about this – they were very happy indeed.
And at this point, enter the IDS Media Machine. Sensing the opportunity for some badly-needed good publicity, IDS’ people arranged for him to have a photoshoot with the Rate Payers’ Action Group and it would go in the local paper. Iain rejoices with his constituents. Sensing the opportunity to heckle him about benefits deaths, we gatecrashed.
Not that we were rude about it, you understand. We stood there (mostly) quietly, holding our signs while the CPZ folks had their photo taken. They’d fought and won the battle they were passionate about, and we didn’t want to detract from that. When they saw us approaching, I think they assumed we were the pro-parking control gang, ready to have a rumble about permit books. They were relieved when they realised our fights wasn’t with them but the one we call the Inhuman Disabled Slayer. For the record, some of my fellow protestors were pro-CPZ but we managed to put our parking differences behind us to focus on the real issue at hand – the 300 deaths a month of people sanctioned by the DWP.
Having said that, we totally ripped off the CPZ signs to make our own ones:
We had a mix of messages – “No to Benefit Deaths”, “Yes to UN Investigations”, “No to Human Rights Violations”. All pretty reasonable, I think. I shouted a few things at IDS, to which he only responded with “that isn’t true”. Well, it’s truer than the case studies you put in that DWP leaflet Iain.
But the real action happened after I left to go and get Reuben (I may be a trainee political activist, but dammit I’m a mother first). IDS came over to talk to our gang and ended up in a heated debate with my friend Jess over whether or not people were actually dying after being sanctioned. She apparently said some incredible things to him which made him squirm (“People are dying on your watch Iain”) and she and Hanna attacked him with facts and figures. Then he talked to DrGem about the state of the NHS and how dying cancer patients are still being forced to pay the bedroom tax. He condescended, he patronised, he made calming hand gestures. He almost certainly lied about some stuff. I wish I’d been there to witness it but Reuben was already outstaying his welcome at a playdate and after half an hour of IDS solidly ignoring us, I had no reason to think things would change. So my contribution was mainly just holding a sign:
But I could not have been prouder of my friends, who took him on (verbally, not physically) and won the moral victory. We were just a small protest- lucky as we were balanced on a traffic island – and a ragtag one, wrangling toddlers as we waved our homemade, winebox signs around. It may not have been effective – he may see this kind of thing everywhere he goes, but I’d like to think we at least gave him something to ponder. He may not sleep quite as soundly tonight as he normally does. We couldn’t possibly represent every person who has suffered under the sanctions regime but at least we did something.
See you soon for a rematch Iain?